Township Council short circuits Planning Board Lackawanna Plaza review process for the Redevelopment Plan.
Township Council ignores residents and Historic Preservation Commission wishes to preserve and showcase site assets.
Township Council’s own plan downgrades Lackawanna Station historic assets and the designated historic district.
On May 23 the Council referred their own Redevelopment Plan for Lackawanna Plaza to the Planning Board telling the PB members they wanted comments by this Monday’s PB meeting June 26, not giving the Planning Board members the normal time for review for “do diligence” as has been done on other recent projects ie Seymour St and Lorraine Ave/Time Warner. This Plan was written by a planning firm hired by the Council.
This is our downtown, a designated historic district and part of a ward that complains a lot about congestion, density and getting the short end of the stick. Lackawanna Plaza is an opportunity to enhance our downtown and showcase a historic site as part of an attractive public gathering place to be proud.
We all know this area needs a grocer but no matter what is decided, any supermarket is years away. Most importantly, the retail food market industry is changing rapidly with competition from internet grocers and meal deliveries as well as lower profit margins and the inefficiencies and high cost of brick and mortar sites. Plans made today will likely be obsolete for construction 4 or 5 years off. Importantly, Lackawanna Plaza neighboring residents say “the lack of a supermarket is no excuse to fast track a unwanted plan” and development years away.
A crucial part of the normal review process is public comment which provides information and direction to the Planning Board from residents with knowledge and neighborhood insight from those most effected. However in this case, since the Council has put a time restriction on the process, the Planning Board chair is advocating not having public comment.
The Planning Board is the official body in towns that review and recommends land use policy. Voting members are volunteer residents approved by the Council. Others members are town employees or officials required to be members. Members bring relevant expertise, receive training and with experience become more knowledgable about implications of planning decisions.
During the May 23 Council meeting Planning Board members, HPC members and residents spoke publicly with concerns about 349 new residential units planned for Lackawanna Plaza and the need to showcase the important historic assets. According to Mr. William Scott, an advocate for Affordable Housing, 1080 new units have been planned for Bloomfield Ave. You can find details of other plans here on the town site here http://www.montclairnjusa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&id=40&Itemid=611
Since March of 2013 residents have spoken consistently against oversized, out of place development when the master plan became public with rezoning business districts for much higher construction. The Mayor, Council and Planning Board has heard this loud and clear.
During the last 2 years some Planning Board members have worked tirelessly to respond to resident wishes, improve building design, decrease bulk of proposed buildings and footprints of large sites.
The Planning Board lowered the originally proposed heights in the new master plan but then Mayor Jackson advocated for several large areas downtown to be designated “ Redevelopment Areas” which allow an open door to the Township creating new zoning for these properties, outside of protective zoning restrictions.
When residents voiced disapproval of these Redevelopment Area designations, Mayor Jackson said “the town” will have more control to get what it wants.
Now is the time for residents to say to the Mayor and officials. “Residents are the town” and “ The town does not want this”. At town meetings, residents hear some council members remain silent and some say “ they understand” and “are on their side”, “ they have always been against over development” or ‘we cant do anything” however some records show they have voted for approvals as seen on Council records on this SaveMontclair site's Council Voting Records page. .
This first step in approvals for Lackawanna Plaza is the most critical. The redevelopment plan ..the concept, footprint, bulk ie supermarket, about 350 apts within 2 buildings. Once this is approved the town is committed to that size, footprint, height and bulk. Later stages of review determine other details such as parking, traffic circulation and external design etc.
Smith Maran Architecture and Interiors, a consulting architectural firm hired to work for the Council, provides recommendations on redevelopment. Smith Maran created an alternative redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza based on community input from public workshops and feedback from the Planning Board Redevelopment Subcommittee which included Historic Preservation Commission representation. This plan highlighted and maintained the historic assets and pushed heights the middle of the blocks in order to reduce bulk near streets. Smith Maran’s plan was rejected by the Council and not referred to the Planning Board for consideration or comment.
We have to ask ourselves and more importantly ask our elected officials why ???
Why did our mayor tell residents the town will have more control if we have “redevelopment areas” and now pushes for a widely unwanted plan.
Why do some council representatives tell residents “Im on your side” or “I have always been against too much development” and then allow this proceed or vote to support it.
Why do officials support a plan that disregards and degrades a widely valued significant town historic asset.
Some answers lie in residents’ stressful lifestyles, long work days and lack of attention to town business and elections.
In 2012, Mayor Jackson ran on a development platform and won with just 3842 votes of about 27,000 registered voters in town. In addition, our public school system and town employees make up a large percentage of voters and many vote based on a union recommendation.
Previously Mayor Fried advocated bicycling and hired a town planner with high density urban planning experience from Jersey City who continues to be our town Planning Director. In the 2016 election incumbents ran unopposed except one ward.
Residents are once again asking Mayor Jackson to listen to and support what most residents want, not just 3842 supporters in a town with a population over 38,000.
What you can do:
Contact Mayor Jackson and ward representatives and ask them to let the Planning Board do their work and make Lackawanna Plaza something to be proud of. Call (973) 509-4901 if you need your ward representative’s name.
Most effective is to attend important meetings and speak out in public. This gives Planning Board direction to speak for the public rather from their own opinion, goes into public records and potentially into media.
If you cannot attend a meeting, watch PB and Council meetings on TV 34 but its crucial to let your representatives know you want the Planning Board to be given time for the normal review process.
Ask your Councillor to vote down any oversized, out of character plan . Ask to meet with your representatives to ask them to help stop this short circuited process but most importantly vote accordingly. Voting records, by law should be recorded in Council meeting minutes.
Monday, June 26, Town Hall, 7:30, Planning Board reviews Council’s proposed plan but may not be public comment so bring a sign to speak for you.
Tuesday, June 27, Fire Department Headquarters, 1 Pine Street, 7PM Renee Baskerville’s Community Meeting to discuss Lackawanna Plaza, the Rectory and Montclairion II, and a new application for a seven-unit townhouse development at 360 Orange Road.
July 25, Regular Council Meeting with Public comment about any topic but it may be too late to change direction of this plan. See agendas on town site. July 11 Council Conference Meeting has no public comment.
Mayor Robert Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org
1st Ward Cllr./ Deputy Mayor 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
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Details of Redevelopment Area Proposals
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