A last minute and long requested financial analysis on the Lackawanna Plaza Plan shows net gain under $300,000 for town.
Although the 300 residential unit plan has 136 with one bedroom, 107 with two bedrooms, 20 with three bedrooms and 37 studios, this report only projects 569 new residents averaging less than 2 per unit.
Considering this and other financial analyses for Montclair developments refer to housing projections for the whole State of New Jersey, many question the validity of projections for Montclair.
The Council scheduled the potential vote on this Plan tomorrow during Tuesday’s Council meeting and public hearing and residents may have the last chance to voice opinions. This meeting is scheduled 6-9pm on the town site.
Both land use boards, the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission have reviewed this revised Plan and provided the Council with lengthy reports detailing how it does not meet policy requirements of our Master Plan for land use. These Boards exist to provide expertise to the Council.
When in 2013 the first draft of this Master Plan became public, zoning heights in all business districts and around around train stations were almost doubled. This Master Plan was funded by NJ Transit. Residents were outraged and the zoning was not heightened in business districts but 18 areas in town were designated "areas in need of redevelopment" which allows for development not restricted by zoning.
"Increase ratables” was the justification our previous Mayor Jackson and Council members supporting oversized development gave residents.
Another previous financial analysis of the Lack Plaza plan completed by the long time town financial advisor, Robert Benecke was reported to also show little value for town finances. Mr. Benecke resigned days after his report’s finding finally became public in September, after residents and board members persisted with requests to see the report.
More history about town development may be found on www.SaveMontclair.org. Please forward to concerned residents and come to tomorrow's Council meeting.
Here is the link to this new financial analysis for Lackawanna Plaza.
Peter Yacobellis noted yesterday afternoon in his email to some constituents that the Council vote on the latest Lackawanna Plan is on the agenda tonight, contrary to last week’s announcement.
Last Tuesday, David Cummings declared several times at his public meeting in the 4th ward reviewing this Plan that the Council would not vote at tonight’s meeting since he would be away.
**Please pass this notice to other residents and see SaveMontclair.org for more history of development in Montclair.
If you can make it, public attendance is very important at the Council meeting tonight to show elected officials you are watching and you care. Effectively speaking during public comments or questions is even more helpful. Since there is an extensive list of agenda items in old business before Lackawanna comes up in new business, you may want to watch the meeting progress on TV34 and come to the town hall in person when it looks like old business will end.
Residents who have followed town proceedings regarding development for many years are not surprised to see what look like tactics to avoid the rigors of proper public engagement. We have to wonder what motivates elected officials to continue to work against voter wishes.
Examples of following the law but minimizing public engagement may happen when important meetings and agenda items are scheduled at the last minute, with little notice or when the public is away during popular vacation periods. In recent months scheduling webex reviews of a major development plan gives the town planner control of who is allowed to ask questions by not selecting some callers. Last minute additions to agendas or last minute voting may happen when the Council succeeds in getting enough votes needed to pass an unpopular item. Willing Councilors who are absent can claim the vote was out of their control to their constituents.
When the first draft of the Montclair master plan was made public in 2013, zoning in all business districts around train stations had been proposed with nearly double heights. After the public successfully pushed for the current zoning to remain, during a 2014 Thanksgiving week meeting, 18 properties were voted to be designated “ area in need of redevelopment”. This allows for development to avoid zoning. Council members and our town planner regularly claim it gives flexibility for the town to get more of what it wants.
Our current master plan was funded by New Jersey Transit and written by their consulting firm for towns with train stations all over NJ. Our 2012 Council insisted we use this technically confusing 214 page document although only 2 other towns in NJ did so.
Ever since our Planning Board and the public has spent years fighting proposed oversized projects.
In 2013 a NJ Transit properties official openly stated, " its all about fannies in the seats".
**Please forward this to other residents. See SaveMontclair.org for more history of development in Montclair.
The State of New Jersey encourages development especially in northern parts of our state. Consequently some elected town officials seeking support for higher office may hope to obtain support by demonstrating their ability to get development done in their town.
Recently our Council has been promoting the current developer’s proposed plan for Lackawanna Plaza by organizing public meetings attended by the developer and Council members. Assets of the plan are described to gain support of residents; some questions answered while others are not. We all understand that local residents want a supermarket but no one wants massive problems to come with it.
Sign petition here.
Informed residents are not misled by these promotional meetings and are aware that the plan does have some nice features but the massive scale of the proposed buildings will tower over the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Every plan requires careful considerations. This 8 acre project is the biggest and most complex in the town’s history, requiring time for study to understand impact on neighborhoods and the whole town: car and pedestrian traffic, parking, schools, public services, town finances etc, etc. Ignoring Montclair's Master Plan for land use and rushing this process is only supporting the developer’s interests and maybe interests of some Councilors but clearly not supporting the town.
Traffic and parking are always priority issues but during a late December Council meeting, the Mayor and Councilors Yacobellis, Schlager and Abrams voted 4 to 3 to not provide time they had previously committed to for the Planning Board to review the new traffic study before their report reviewing the project was due to the Council.
Support their efforts by signing the petition in the link above and ask the Council to scale back this massive project and allow for time to get it right. Decisions are permanent.
See article here by former planning board member about Lackawanna plan
See link to Baristanet opinion piece about Lackawanna plan.
***Join SaveMontclair.org to receive periodic email updates about town development.
Our Council continues to ignore requests from our Planning Board and from residents to protect the town from overdevelopment and high density in our downtown. Outcry from residents about bulky oversized buildings has been consistent since 2013 when a newly proposed master plan became public with business district heights raised all over town including from 6 to10 stories on Bloomfield Ave and from 3 to 7 stories in the Upper Montclair. After public outrage was expressed for over 2 years the planning board reduced these proposed heights in the plan. Soon after 18 properties were designated "areas in need of redevelopment" to allow for building outside of zoning restrictions. Many of our current Councilors were representing us at that time as well: Sean Spiller, Robin Schlager, Bill Hurlock and Robert Russo.
This current Council now has rejected the most recent planning board proposal to lower heights of Bloomfield Ave from 6 to 4 stories since Montclair's master plan calls for 4 stories. This last April the Council approved a proposal to designate 3 story zoned business property on Label Street in the Walnut Street neighborhood to be designated "area in need of redevelopment " allowing again for larger scale development.
Well planned respectful development is welcome when it enhances the town, neighborhoods and town finances. However unlike past simply written master plans, our current one was funded by NJ Department of Transportation (primarily NJ Transit) and written for NJ towns with train stations to proposing dense high rise development around train stations. Most NJ towns rejected those plans but the Mayor and Council at that time insisted the planning board work with and adopt this 200 page confusing and complex document as our master plan.
***Refer concerned residents to Join Us to receive future emails directly about town development. Like us on Facebook.
Attend this Tuesday's July 26 Council meeting at 205 Claremont Ave to oppose oversized development during the public comments or email your Councilor. Since the agenda may change, verify this meeting agenda on Tuesday on the town site. See Council page here.
Below is the link to the Montclair Local article about the recent request to lower Bloomfield Ave heights here...
Town's Label St study ignores state policy guidelines for redevelopment: “Preserve and Enhance Areas with Historic, Cultural, Scenic, Open Space and Recreational Value”:
Notes below about the township’s Label Street study was done to seek designation so 3 story zoning can be ignored. See previous notice above on this page.
The Township’s March study for the Label Street area cites the “New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan” (2001), and highlights 6 of that plan’s 11 Policy Objectives, which the Township study considers most relevant to Label Street Redevelopment. But it fails to mention Policy Objective 9, which stipulates the importance of historic preservation. We believe this is highly relevant to any redevelopment of the Label Street area.
The Township study points out that in the State plan, Essex County is classified as a Metropolitan Planning Area PA1, and cited several of the 11 Policy Objectives for such an area. It neglected to mention:
Policy Objective 9: Historic Preservation: “Encourage the preservation and adaptive reuse of historic or significant buildings, Historic and Cultural Sites, neighborhoods and districts in ways that will not compromise either the historic resource or the area’s ability to redevelop. Coordinate historic preservation with tourism efforts.” (Print Page 191/ Digital Page 225) Here is the State study: https://nj.gov/state/planning/assets/docs/2001-state-plan/stateplan030101.pdf
More broadly, on a Statewide basis, going beyond just Metropolitan Planning Area PA1, the State plan cites 8 overall “Statewide Goals, Strategies and Policies.” Goal 7 is “Preserve and Enhance Areas with Historic, Cultural, Scenic, Open Space and Recreational Value”:
Goal 7’s Strategy: “Enhance, preserve and use historic, cultural, scenic, open space and recreational assets by collaborative planning, design, investment and management techniques. Locate and design development and redevelopment and supporting infrastructure to improve access to and protect these sites. Support the important role of the arts in contributing to community life and civic beauty.” (Page 87)
Goal 7’s Vision for Historic Preservation: “In 2020, historic sites and districts are given special recognition in their communities and are integrated into local zoning and development strategies. Seeking to maximize the unique character of their communities, nearly all municipalities in New Jersey have enacted ordinances recognizing the value of local history and providing limited protection of historic resources. In addition, these communities have conducted surveys to identify and map the location of sites, landmarks and districts as part of the master plan process. Utilizing the state’s building code that enables economically viable rehabilitation of historic properties, builders and developers embrace the ideals of conserving resources by revitalizing existing neighborhoods. Creative use of building codes now encourages the retention of the historic fabric of our communities. Development projects around the state provide for archeological investigations and on-site public observation, enhancing the understanding of our past and increasing the awareness of the current cultural diversity of the state.” (Page 87)
The State plan also outlines 19 Statewide Policy Categories. No. 9 is “Historic, Cultural and Scenic Resources” (Page 144):
“Protect, enhance, and where appropriate rehabilitate historic, cultural and scenic resources by identifying, evaluating and registering significant historic, cultural and scenic landscapes, districts, structures, buildings, objects and sites and ensuring that new growth and development is compatible with historic, cultural and scenic values.”
Also, Statewide Policy Category No. 19 is “Design,” (Page 174), which includes as a subcategory Policy 10:
“Respecting Local Context and its Vernacular: Acknowledge and incorporate local history, climate, ecology, topography, building materials, building practices and local scale into the design of the built environment and the protection of the natural environment, where practicable and cost-effective.” (Page 178)
And Policy 19/Adaptive Reuse:
“Design and construct buildings in a way that will facilitate their adaptive reuse.” (Page 180)
Based on the “New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan,” the State strongly recognizes the importance of historic preservation in such projects. Any consideration of redevelopment for the Label Street area should also embrace historic preservation and seek ways to enhance the historic industrial structures in the study area.
***Please forward to other residents and Join Us to receive future notices about develpment.
This Monday, April 11 at 7:30 PM our Planning Board is scheduled to review two Walnut Street area land parcels proposed for a designation of “ Area in Need of Redevelopment” or ANR so 3 story zoning restrictions can be officially ignored.
One parcel is half the block between Label and Oak Place including vacant restaurant and second parcel is empty lot on Forest and Oak Place corner. A developer has a plan already in place for an 8 story building. This building would replace the factory building currently housing 16 businesses at older construction rental rates. The proposed building is shown here.
The ANR designation is meant to provide financial incentives and flexibility to attract development for dilapidated, dangerous or abandoned property which would otherwise be of no interest to developers.
In this case the ANR designation would help a developer’s interests but alter the charm of this successful mixed-use neighborhood as well as add congestion to the adjacent residential streets. If the ANR designation is stopped Monday night by the Planning Board and not recommended this kind of building cannot be built.
Residents need to voice opposition by calling into Mondays meeting. Find directions on Planning Board page under Agendas in on the town site here.
***Please forward this to other residents and Join Us to receive future notices about town development.
Additionally the Depot Square station parking lot/ farmers market area has been proposed for designation of “area in need of rehabilitation”, with similar incentives.
Here is how this happens.
1st A property owner approaches our own town planner about what they want to do outside of our zoning restrictions, which exist to protect all area property owners. Zoning is determined by the Planning Board as the most appropriate land use setting for that part of the community.
2nd The planner now comes to the Council with a proposal to study the area to support a proposal for ANR designation. The planner hires an outside agency for the study which almost always recommends a designation. All Councilors and the Mayor approved this study.
3rd The developer then brings the development proposal to the Planning Board with few restrictions including heights, parking requirements and preservation laws.
Unfortunately, high rise development has been proposed in town since the Mayor Fried administration hired an urban town planner prior to 2012 experienced in planning Hoboken development. During the the Jackson administration in 2013-2015 residents all over town pushed back hard to stop rezoning to allow 7-12 story high density building in business districts throughout the township in the new Montclair masterplan. In 2014, in one planning board meeting scheduled during Thanksgiving week, sixteen ANRs were designated in our downtown Bloomfield Ave area and adjacent neighborhoods making zoning immaterial for these properties.
Transit Oriented Development or TODs has also been promoted here since 2012. NJ Transit funded many NJ town masterplans to support this which resulted in confusing, complex and overly technical masterplan documents with high density development around train stations. Montclair was of special interest since we have six train stations. Montclair was one of only 3 towns in the state that our Council actually approved using the 200-page masterplan funded by NJ Transit, replacing our previous, easy to understand masterplans with a few pages. “It’s all about fannies in the seat”, the NJ Transit property manager told this writer. More history of development in town can be found on the SaveMontclair.org site. Join Us to receive future notices about development.
Since 2012 the township planner and four of the holdover current Councilors from the past administration have heard residents all over town fight over development and zoning for high density; Sean Spiller, Bill Hurlock, Robin Schlager and Bob Russo have all heard ongoing resident anger and dismay about continued proposals and oversized projects. They’ve heard it over and over, night after night; sometimes with 150 or 200 residents attending board and ward meetings… “We did not move to Montclair to live in a city”.
Residents can participate in the Planning Board meeting Monday at 7:30 PM by following directions on the Planning Board page of town site here. Sometimes the PB meeting schedule or agenda changes with little or no notice so check this site again Monday. The study for ANR designation and maps can be found town site on the Planning Board page here.
***Please forward this email to other residents and call in Monday night to stop the ANR designation.
***Join Us to receive future notices about town development.
Monday, July 13 Planning Board to review plan to replace street parking all over town on residential streets.
A plan proposing to replace street parking with dedicated bike lanes on residential streets all over town will be reviewed this Monday during the Planning Board's virtual meeting. You may see streets effected on page 14 of the plan below. If you want to maintain parking on your street you need to speak out during public comment at this meeting and contact your Councilor.
Montclair's public parking is continually under assault by developers attempting to justify building less parking spaces than required by law for apartment projects by claiming people " dont want cars". Some people like to walk and some like to bike... "if weather permits".... but cars are used 24/7. Cities with extensive bike lanes such as NYC have alternative transportation available when biking or walking is not possible.
Montclair streets were designed in the 1800s and built for horses and carriages. There will never be enough space for every group demanding special accommodations. Eliminating one lane of parking on streets will have many consequences. Currently when parking is not used that lane and space provides for vehicles to pass, deliver, provide lawn service just to name a few.
Those of us who enjoy biking have Montclair and Essex County parks expressly made for safe walking and biking.
You may watch this meeting on Channel 34 at 7:30 Monday or on your computer via Montclair Government Youtube. You may comment via phone or as per directions here in the town site. Its essential that those wishing to maintain street parking is heard from.
See this link for directions to view meeting on your computer and call in to speak. See page 14 for SAFE Complete Streets for on left side of Planning Board town page.
How much can tax payers or the town bear? Last week, during a teleconference meeting the Council approved a rent control ordinance in buildings with 4 or more units, capping rent increases at 4.25% and at 2.50% if anyone over age 65 years lives in the unit. Town tax revenue will be reduced as rental revenues decrease in buildings. Someone has to make up the difference.
According the Montclair Local, the 2016 census reported, 42% of town residents rent and with 13.2% in 2 units buildings and 10.2% in 3-4 unit buildings. That means 58% of town residents are buying their home…and investing in Montclair. Representatives are responding to tenants’ complaints but what do people say who will pay for it?
Rent control has been debated for decades and consistently voted down by Montclair residents as a referendum on the ballet. Now its approved by the Council just a month before the town election May 12 and during this extraordinary time when residents have to remain home. Proposals for rent control came from both mayoral candidates and a proposal was approved by those councilors running for re-election. The mayor and one councilor chose to abstain who are not running.
" We need more ratables" was the mantra pro-development advocates used to justify large scale development to increase the town's tax base.. How does causing taxes revenues to come down on apartment buildings fit this objective?
According to the NJ Assessor’s Handbook, residential property with 5 or more units are assessed or valued with an income approach. Four unit properties are valued with an approach using both income and sales and 1-3 units valued with a sales approach only.
Montclair’s Municipal Assessor, George Librizzi, CTA, IFAS, SCGREA stated, “Rent control will eventually shift some tax burden to property with 4 units and less; when that happens, depends on economic and market conditions.” If the property’s revenue is constrained, then value of the property is constrained and consequently taxes which will be made up by smaller properties.
Mr. Librizzi added, “A free market will find the right level of rent.” Hundreds of apartments are now being built or are planned for in and surrounging Montclair. "Landlords will have to compete for the good tenants.”
Economic experts cannot predict market forces with recent weekly leaps in unemployment and a plunging economy. So why and why now?
When someone pays less, others pay more. Costs do not disappear. Economic and racial diversity is valued in Montclair but how much will social engineering contribute to a gradual demise of the town’s popularity by intervening in market forces? Most single family home owners in median priced homes, no matter what their ethnic group already flee Montclair taxes when their children graduate from high school, selling to young families who will also pay less taxes than the town incurs with the costs for public schooling. We need empty nesters to stay in town and pay taxes to support the schools they no longer use.
Montclair is full of good people who like to help others with affordable housing in Montclair; however costs and consequences seem ignored. Affordable housing advocates press our town for more and more lower cost/ lower taxed housing. Other tax payers have to make up the differences in services not covered by those lower taxes. Montclair provides its share of government mandated affordable units.
Advocates speak about the long list of people who need affordable housing and want to live in Montclair. They also speak about those residents spending over 30% of income for housing and about life long residents who now cannot afford to stay. It’s not unique to pay 30% in housing if you choose to live in popular area and retirees all over the Northeast leave their homes for less expensive states. Many Montclair retirees move to more affordable local towns and still enjoy Montclair. There is an endless list of people who want what they cannot afford. We are all on that list.
That said, losing most empty nesters and seniors is very problematic. Town finances need more residents paying taxes who support the schools but don't use them. Montclair needs to work harder to be affordable for residents to stay and maintain the wide diversity of homes.
Several local realtors all say the same thing. People choose Montclair for a variety of reasons: its accessibility to Manhattan, the school system, a cosmopolitan feel, walkable business districts, parks and park like neighborhoods, a wealth of beautiful housing stock and its diversity.
A group of landlords protesting the ordinance may appeal the new law in court and/or will collect signatures to put this on the ballot as a referendum for voters to decide.
There is a policy debate. Ask yourselves.
1. Is it the obligation of tax payers and the town's government to maintain our diversity and demographic character by redistributing taxes?
2. How much intervention in market forces can town residents afford to help people live here who otherwise cannot afford to?
3. This proposal provides for a review in 10 years. Would it make more sense to have a short term rent control to restrict unjustifiable high rent increases until the market forces provide a path to the “right level of rent”?
4. Do we have the right to limit private property rights with rent control?
5. Why now...during personal, family and an economic upheaval and when so many apartments are being developed in the area?
6. Will landlords not want to rent to seniors since rents are more restrictive?
What can you do to have a say?
1. Support the landlords appeal or sign their petition for a referendum to be on the ballet for voters to decide.
2. Ask the Councilors why they think this ordinance is good for the town and their constituents.
1st Ward Cllr. Hurlock: email@example.com
2nd Ward Cllr. Schlager: firstname.lastname@example.org
3rd Ward Cllr. Spiller: email@example.com
4th Ward Cllr. Baskerville: firstname.lastname@example.org
At-Large Robert J. Russo: email@example.com
See ordinance on town site Council agenda page for April 7 here.
See video of April 7 Council meeting here or search in Youtube.com
Here is another sad example of our Council not willing to confront the Township planning department for appearing to work on behalf of the developer, rather than protect the interests of town residents. Rather than getting to the bottom of a potential manipulation during the planning process, they are attacking and attempting to discredit the source of information.
Prior to this week’s Planning Board review of the MC Residences, the 37 Orange Rd application by developers – a project with 46 residential units per acre, Martin Schwartz of the Planning Board stated before the hearing that he believed there may have been intentional staff manipulation that impacted the Council’s approval process for this project.
See attached article here:
Mr. Schwartz spoke prior to the official hearing and announced that 18 units/ acre were originally intended in the Redevelopment Plan amendment for this neighborhood, both originally suggested by the Council and then agreed to by the Planning Board. Once discovered months ago, the Township Manager reportedly told Councilors he would investigate and report back why the 18 units per acre agreed to was not the determined Plan result. However, no report was apparently given to Councilors which Mr. Schwartz publicly reported during Monday's PB meeting Sept 9, since he was advised by some that there was no report. Since no corrective action was taken, the developer was able to move forward and gain approval for a much higher density than originally authorized.
The 37 Orange Road developers, Pinnacle Companies and Hampshire Companies, are also developers for Lackawanna Plaza. Pinnacle is a major developer for several major Montclair sites including the recently opened MC Hotel on Bloomfield Ave, The Sienna on Church and South Park, Valley and Bloom apartment complex and Pinnacle is currently building the Seymour St. project.
Our Town Planning Department is the key player in coordination and expediting of proper planning processes for the benefit of Montclair, not developers. They are the professionals and experts hired to serve, advise and protect Montclair residents based on township interests and master plan goals.
View the video of the statement by Martin Schwartz just a few minutes into Monday’s planning board, prior to 37 Orange Rd application review by the Board here
Read the conflicting exchange of statements between Mr. Schwartz and Township
Residents need to know the Planning Department is serving them. Voters need to get answers and action from our Council. Ask questions:
Mayor Robert Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org
1st Ward Cllr. Hurlock: email@example.com
2nd Ward Cllr. Schlager: firstname.lastname@example.org
3rd Ward Cllr. Spiller: email@example.com
4th Ward Cllr. Baskerville: firstname.lastname@example.org
At-Large Robert J. Russo: email@example.com
At-Large Rich McMahon: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABetterLackawanna group of dedicated residents now have a website for residents to review and join the complaint seeking to appeal the approved plan for Lackawanna Plaza. Plaintiffs are not financially obligated.
Our Council needs to hear from you.
Deadline is this Thursday, July 18th to be listed as a plaintiff on the amended filing of the suit.
Those who previously sent in their names and street addresses also need to provide an official signature to be listed formally as a plaintiff and may now do so electronically.
Go to www.abetterlackawanna.org to review complaint items and sign to be heard and support those residents working hard for a better downtown.
Please forward this to others willing to stand for a better Montclair.
***Refer others to www.SaveMontclair.org for recent history of development in Montclair and to Join Us for updates.
Details of Redevelopment Area Proposals
Council Email addresses, Meeting Agendas and Minutes
HPC Meeting Agendas
Planning Board Agendas