Year in review 2019: A developing year for Montclair
One of the biggest stories of the year was the approval of the Lackawanna development.
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
2019 was a year of growth and change in Montclair with the MC Hotel opening in August, the approval of the Lackawanna development in February, the continuation of the Seymour Arts district construction and plans for two more developments on Church Street and Orange Road. The town also attempted to save its history with a moratorium on home demolitions after two homes are razed, and the creation of local landmarks districts on Oakcroft and Wheeler. Plans to resurrect the Bellevue Theater and expansion of the Montclair Art Museum were set in motion, while Trumpets Jazz club closed its doors in September.
Adult School of Montclair begins charging tuition for Montclair residents for the first time due to an increased demand for the classes, and a rise in class expenses. Residents do get a 50 percent discount.
The New Jersey Court of Appeals rules that the PARCC guidelines, which require students to take two PARCC tests in order to graduate, were in conflict with existing state law on testing. In February, it was decided that students could use one of three options to graduate: PARCC; the SAT, ACT or PSAT; a portfolio of graded work. This year PARCC was replaced by the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA). Students can still use college board tests or portfolios to graduate.
Montclair school district administrators announce a $2.2 million shortfall in the $127,771,663 2019-2020 budget. While the township announces residents would see a slight decrease - about $9 on average - in their municipal tax bills. Officials give credit to new development that raised the tax ratables by $20 million.
The township places a moratorium on the demolition of homes following public alarm over the razing of mansions on Lloyd and Undercliff roads, including one that dated back to the Civil War. The homes were razed in February to make way for a proposed 60,000 square foot home. In November, the town passed a law giving the Historic Preservation Commission demolition permit approval, moving it out of the hands of the building department. In April, the applicant, billionaire Melih Abdulhayoglu, withdrew the megamansion application “without prejudice,” which means the applicant can refile at any time. Abdulhayoglu could still build the home without town approval by moving it away from Eagle Rock reservation and lowering the number of proposed parking spots.
After over a year of testimony, Lackawanna is approved. On the night of the planning board the applicants announced that German-based Lidl supermarket will be taking the place of the former Pathmark. The store will only be 29,000 square feet, rather than the 47,000 proposed. In April, a group of 200 plus residents sue the planning board contending that with the change in square footage the application was dramatically changed. At year's end, the suit is still in the courts.
With baseball season set to begin and the rainy months ahead, Edgemont Memorial Park users complain to town officials over water drainage problems that have plagued the park since it underwent a $900,000 upgrade last year. Two lakes had formed in the grassy areas. In June, new contractors were hired to correct the drainage system at a cost of $90,000.
During the month of March, the Montclair Police Department announced a zero tolerance on motorists who do not stop for stopped school buses. At the end of the school year police said, they had issued 175 tickets to drivers illegally passing school buses.
A dispute over the interpretation of the density language - 18 or 72 units per an acre - in the Montclair Center Gateway redevelopment plan resulted in the board adjourning the first hearing for a 46-unit, mixed-use building at 33-37 Orange Road called the “MC Residences.” The zoning board later interpreted the language to read 72 per an acre, pushing it back to the planning board.
The owners of Trumpets Jazz Club announce they are selling the club they have run since 1999. The club is listed at $3.6 million. The last show was held in September. At year’s end the property had not sold.
In a move to make the library more accessible, officials announce they are waiving fees on overdue books.
Montclair Art Museum officials present upgrades to the museum’s grounds including an outdoor sculpture garden, a public space with a water wall and a reflecting pond with a newly commissioned work of art. Despite some opposition to moving the revered sculpture “The Sun Vow” and removal of eight trees, the planning board approves the plans in September.
BOE Board president Laura Hertzog resigns from the board May 16, the same night the board elects new leadership, including Eve Robinson as president and Latifah Jannah as vice president.
The township creates penalties of up to $1,000 after 10 fake parking permits are discovered by the parking enforcement officials. By year’s end, officials reported that over 3,000 people are waiting for parking permits, with some waiting up to two years.
Plans are announced to renovate the Bellevue Theater after owner Jesse Sayegh and Highgate Hall LLC entered into a lease agreement. Highgate Hall LLC consists of partners: film and television producer Luke Parker Bowles, actor Patrick Wilson, developer Steven Plofker, corporate strategist Andy Childs, lawyer Larry Slous, marketer Vincent Onorati, and Brandon Jones, former partner of the in-theater dining chain Studio Movie Grill. Plans call for six theaters, a restaurant and a bar, but no parking.
After nine years, Mary Scotti, owner of 73 See Gallery on Pine Street, announces she will be closing after her landlord, Lexington & Concord, alerted her that she would have to vacate the space. She was given no reason for the eviction, but was granted an extension to remain until the end of July so she could hold one more Pine Street ArtsFEST.
Montclair History Center board members announce they can no longer financially care for the Charles Shultz home, “Evergreen” in the center’s care since 1997. At year’s end, no realistic offers had been made on the home.
A 7-year-old boy fell into the Greenhouse at Van Vleck Gardens on July 9. A man visiting from Denmark hears his cries, breaks open the door and saves him. Apparently the July incident wasn't the first time someone fell through the greenhouse. Two earlier incidents were reported in 2017. In February of that year, a 12-year-old fell through the greenhouse roof. Two months later, in April, a 6-year-old boy who was having his birthday party at the gardens climbed on the greenhouse and also fell through prompting a suit. The foundation immediately blocked access and marked paths around the greenhouse.
Superintendent Kendra Johnson resigned from Montclair to take a position with the Howard County Schools Board of Education in Maryland. In August, Nathan Parker is named as interim superintendent.
Montclair Police deputy chief Tracy Frazzano announces she is resigning to become the police chief in Marco Island. Although she takes over in Florida on Sept. 3, Frazzano is currently still collecting her annual salary of $185,096 ($7,251 on a bi-weekly basis) using her accumulated benefit time. The amount still owed to Frazzano, and when she will be off the township payroll, is being withheld by township officials. She was still being paid at the end of the year.
A mural painted underneath the Chestnut Street trestle by Montclair High School students with an anti-gun message sparks debate concerning community input when public art about controversial issues is installed. Some said the mural goes too far with its images of six student silhouettes — three with bullseyes, three carrying backpacks with flowers growing out of them, all with their arms raised above their heads, above the words “Never Again.” The Montclair Republican Club then requests permission from NJ Transit, which owns the property, to create a pro-Second Amendment mural across from the mural stating the agency has an “ethical and legal obligation to afford free expression, equal protection and access to opposing viewpoints.”
Teachers protest after a delay in pay increases with newly approved contracts.
Essex County announces plans to break ground on a major overhaul of Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair in 2020. Plans for the project area, which currently contains 10 traffic lights, include removing the light at Glenridge Avenue, keeping the other nine, and adding two lights at Midland Avenue and Seymour Street. Glenridge Avenue would become one-way in the opposite direction than currently, allowing motorists to make a right-hand turn from Bloomfield onto Glenridge. The township passed a resolution against the removal of the Glenridge crosswalk.
After over a year of Montclair High School students being shuffled around due to the closure of four compromised staircases, the staircases reopen after being rebuilt. Trailers serving as classrooms are removed from the parking lot.
The newly-formed Tenants Organization of Montclair steps up its fight for rent stabilization after seeing renters being driven out by rent increases as high as 30 percent by new landlords.
Oakcroft and Wheeler streets residents concerned with property rights speak out against declaring their two neighborhoods local landmark districts. The residents contend that the local landmark district designation would hinder their ability to upkeep or make changes to their homes by creating an expensive bureaucratic approval process, and hurt property resales.
A plastic bag ban is passed by the council, applying to big box stores, 20,000 square feet or more.