Supermarket designer says using train sheds “ would be gorgeous”….time for this developer to do something great for Montclair’s downtown.
The Planning Board’s recent Lackawanna Plaza July 23 (next is August 6) hearing showed that it's clearly a lack of developer interest, creativity and design expertise with historic buildings that continues to delay bringing a supermarket back to this space. He has ignored our Planning Board chairman’s request to work with the Board's preservation architect and HPC experts to finalize a design that would be approved. This developer’s plan remains consistent….demolition.
Other local developers propose more appropriate initial designs for Montclair’s historic neighborhoods and assets so only details have to be addressed by boards and projects are approved smoothly. Instead, this developer continues to make claims about what won’t work and about excessive retrofit costs that were shown to be illogical when questioned. Any decision is still under review since the developer has other testimonies to present including a historian he sought out who is willing to discredit Montclair’s iconic 1913 Lackawanna station's historic designation -- including its listings on the local, state and national historical registries.
Questions from Planning Board members showed they were not blindly buying the developer’s statements and those of his representatives about what is possible. The PB hired their own supermarket design firm who testified about what can be done with the site and stated that building a supermarket under the sheds…” would be gorgeous”. He believed a smaller sized market would actually be more profitable and successful within this highly competitive supermarket area given rapidly changing food buying habits. This consultant also suggested the Planning Board hire their own market research analyst to determine the best size and type of market for Montclair's hybrid urban-suburban location.
Two supermarket industry consultants have now testified – one was the developer’s own location analyst (not a store designer). Both effectively agreed that an open store interior could be used to preserve the station’s original train shed metal stanchions. Further, that this unique design could become a magnet for wider area customer draw -- pulling them away from their current grocers – for an exceptional shopping experience here. With the right expertise and motivation, our downtown can an affordable grocer in an exciting and welcoming setting.
To be fair, it is not an easy project to do because there is a difference in elevations within the mall. Parking is always a problem to be dealt with for any Montclair development. Residents and boards were thrilled when this 3rd site plan proposed much smaller scale development and most historic station elements were preserved but it was not immediately clear that 2/3 of train sheds would not be.
This developer is also not known for quality construction or attractive development. His Sienna building has had unrepaired leaks in condos for over a decade preventing use of whole rooms; pieces of the new Valley & Bloom’s façade are falling to the street and apartment ceilings and walls there are reportedly already cracking.
He owns and is developing all larger properties in town: the coming 8 ½ story hotel; the 6 & 7 story Seymour Street project with several buildings as well as Lackawanna Plaza. The Seymour project also required the Town to virtually force the developer to ultimately create a design that worked with our local character. By building here, he is significantly benefiting from Montclair tax payers and our visitors by building in town. Its time to give back.
Developers promote projects with illustrations of green, walkable streetscapes, quiet lush gathering spaces, bike paths and welcoming “gateways” as selling points to gain public support.
… When actual plans are presented we too often only see oversized bulky buildings and attempts to justify too little parking.
Maybe its time to put their money where their mouth is in this town.
….maybe Montclair is due for a give back from this developer…a great supermarket built under the sheds and an attractive development to enhance our downtown by opening Toney’s Brook.
The Montclair Environmental Commission returned July 23 to once again explain the benefits of opening up Toney’s Brook running under this property to create some kind of an open green area near Bloomfield Ave. This water feature could be an actual green “gateway”.
Last points…preserving our historic nature is preserving economic value and why developers want to build here. Maintaining and creating open green space in town is a goal within the 2015 revised Master Plan approved by the Planning Board.
This is the only big chance to enhance the downtown. If you care enough to help and not just vent on social media, attend or communicate at planning meetings and with elected officials using email or during public comments at the Council Conference meetings.
Details of Redevelopment Area Proposals
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HPC Meeting Agendas
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