After saying they reluctantly approved a mixed-use development at 10 Elm St. — upset it included offices, but no retail or other types of commercial space — members of the Montclair Township Planning Board are now considering commercial zone codes that would bar office-space only in future mixed-use projects.

Montclair’s commercial and neighborhood commercial zones currently allow a mix of retail, office and/or other types of commercial space, along with housing.

In the case of the Elm Street project, the development approved in February will include 20 dwelling units and 1,000 square feet of office space on the second floor.

During hearings, board member Carmel Loughman said she felt that “mixed use” zoning was meant to create retail on the first floor, not a 1,000-or-so-square-foot office space on the second story.

“Having office space is not in the spirit of mixed-use planning,” Loughman said. “But I feel I have no choice but to approve the application.” 

The Planning Board can recommend changes, but they’d ultimately need to be approved by the Township Council.

At a March 28 meeting, Janice Talley, director of the township’s Planning and Community Development office, presented a proposal to change Montclair’s commercial zoning rules. The goal is to have contiguous commercial space on the first floor of any new mixed-use project, with lobby and parking access to the side of the building.

As an example of what the township does not want, Talley pointed to 24 Elm St., built in 2008, in which a parking garage access is located in the middle of two first-floor retail spaces — one at 658 square feet, the other at 142 square feet. Both are just 28 feet deep. One space is currently taken up by Rise Up Nutrition and the other is vacant, Talley said. 

Another development, at 256 Park St., built in 2020, is in line with what the township seeks in development, Talley said. The entire first-floor frontage is storefront, taken up by the Millburn Deli, with parking and residential access to the side of the building. 

“It works really well,” she said.

Other examples included a mixed-use project now under construction on the corner of Glenridge Avenue and Willow Street, in which 1,882 square feet of commercial space will wrap around the corner but the parking access is in the front — something Talley said is not as aesthetically pleasing compared to putting parking on the side of the building.

The Montclarion and The Vestry also have large storefronts — 1,470 to 1,628 square feet — that take up the entire first-floor front facades, with parking access to the side. The Montclarion houses Studio Montclair, while The Vestry will soon be home to Kreme & Crumbs restaurant.

Two developments that have been approved but that have not yet broken ground — 59 Church St., with 3,039 square feet of retail, and 37 Orange Road, with 2,500 square feet of retail — will also have parking access to the side.

Talley suggested changing the zoning code for all commercial districts, mainly along Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues and Walnut and Church streets, to remove office space as a permitted use. Offices would still be allowed in Montclair’s OR zones, for offices and residences. Those zones include some properties in the area of Claremont Avenue near Park Street and North Fullerton Avenue, in the area of the intersection of Claremont Avenue and Valley Road, and adjacent to or near The Crescent condos. 

Commercial spaces, which include various types of businesses such as retail and restaurant uses, would be required to have a minimum of 1,000 feet of contiguous frontage, and be at least 35 feet deep; right now, there is no minimum size. Talley also recommended a requirement that parking access be screened or placed to the side of a building, so as to not disrupt the retail space. Lobby accesses could also be street-facing. 

Robin Schlager, the Township Council’s liaison to the Planning Board, said she was concerned that developers might be challenged in filling such spaces. She pointed to empty storefronts on South Park Street and at Valley & Bloom and The Siena.

“We need to wait for the dust to settle,” Talley said, referring to the economic downturn of the pandemic. “The parking decks are opening and the county will soon be done with construction of Bloomfield Avenue. Visibility, ease of access and circulation will certainly help the business there.” 

The suggestions will go to the Township Council’s Economic Development Committee, and then to the full council.