By LINDA MOSS
Developers on Wednesday night for the first time presented their downsized plans for Lackawanna Plaza to township zoning and planning officials, getting feedback on a preliminary site plan that will include a nearly 48,000-square-foot supermarket, office and retail space and 154 residential units.
Officials from Hampshire Cos. of Morristown brought renderings and their own experts to discuss the project at a meeting of the Township Development Review Committee. That body includes members of both the Township Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the planning board engineer and Municipal Planner Janice Talley.
Hampshire and Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair last year submitted a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, entailing construction of a mixed-use project with a large supermarket, parking and 360 residential units at the site, which is on Bloomfield Avenue spanning Grove Street. The property is now home to a now-nearly vacant shopping center that includes the operating Pig & Prince Restaurant and a historic train station. It was the one-time home of a Pathmark, which closed two years ago.
That proposal drew opposition from residents, historic preservationists and town officials alike, and the two real estate firms finally abandoned that controversial redevelopment plan.
Instead, on Dec. 1 they submitted a traditional site plan, not a redevelopment, that cut back the mass and density of the original proposal. A supermarket will still anchor the west parcel, while a four-story multifamily dwelling will be built on the east parcel across on the other side of Grove Street, which is now a surface parking lot. The residential building will have an outdoor pool and a deck.
Todd Anderson, a principal and executive vice president of acquisitions at Hampshire, addressed the review committee at its meeting.
“It’s been a long and winding road that we’ve been going through with the Lackawanna Plaza project,” Anderson said. “I think we finally have gotten a project in front of you that addresses at this point a lot of the traffic concerns, the scale concerns, the historic-preservation concerns and takes as many of those things into consideration as possible to really kind of move this along.”
Based on feedback from the committee and other township officials, Anderson said the site plan can be revised.
Brian Stolar, president of Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair, Hampshire’s partner in the Lackawanna venture, had a prior engagement and could not attend the session.
In a written memo to the committee, Talley detailed Hampshire’s plans.
For the west parcel, the proposal is to:
- Demolish the retail stores along the southern end of the Lackawanna Plaza shopping center and adapt the remaining space to create a supermarket;
- Maintain 11,166 square feet of existing retail space in the historic train shed along Lackawanna Plaza;
- Maintain the existing 197-seat Pig & Prince in the historic train station waiting room;
- Retain the historic concrete stairs to Grove Street; and
- Relocate and rebuild the horse trough along the edge of Grove.
At the meeting the developer said that although the grocery store was originally planned to be 43,495 square feet, now a former laundromat’s 4,168-square space — part of the shopping complex — will be added to the grocery store’s footprint, bringing the total square footage to nearly 48,000, said Chris Richter, a principal and vice president of development for Avison Young in Morristown. That firm is the project manager for Lackawanna Plaza.
Hampshire and Pinnacle also seek to:
- Build a new bus stop shelter at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza using the historic steel canopy from the station;
- Enlarge the size of the plaza at the corner by about 1,200 square feet;
- Expand the parking lot between the supermarket and Bloomfield Avenue to create a total of 226 parking spaces;
- Install a new wall along at the edge of the parking lot along Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street, with a new monument sign at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street;
- Add a new two-way driveway to the expanded parking lot from Grove Street; and
- Create a covered pedestrian passageway between Lackawanna Plaza and the supermarket.
The plans for the east parcel are to:
- Demolish the dome at the entrance to the tunnel under Grove Street and build a new 154-unit apartment building with four stories of residential over a one-story garage;
- Have a total of 230 parking spaces, including 130 spaces in the underground garage, 84 surface parking spaces and 16 existing parking spaces;
- Maintain the existing 4,591-square-foot TD Bank along Bloomfield Avenue; and
- Reconfigure the entrance driveway from Grove Street.
The developers will need a number of variances from the township in order to proceed with their plans. One is permission to convert the 4,168 square feet of first-floor retail space to office space, according to Talley. Pinnacle and Hampshire will also need a variance to permit parking, 83 spaces, in the front yard along Bloomfield Avenue. The developers also want to provide 504 parking spaces at their project when 762 are required under township codes.
Last year the developers said they were in talks with ShopRite about it coming to Lackawanna Plaza as a tenant.
Hampshire and Pinnacle are also seeking to designate 10 percent of their affordable units to township residents, the developers’ attorney, Tom Trautner said. A local ordinance mandates that at least 20 percent of the units to be affordable and marketed to the four-county Housing Region established by state statute, according to Talley’s memo.
The developers are also offering to set aside another 10 percent of their units for as subsidized housing for township employees, Trautner said. That housing would have to be subsidized by the municipality if it chose to do so, according to Talley.
“Those township units would be market-rate units that the town would subsidize … I don’t know where that money would come from,” she said.
Martin Schwartz, a planning board and review committee member, questioned the developers as to why it should receive an exception from the ordinance.
“The bottom line is you are requesting a reduction from the 20 percent to 10 percent … What other community benefit are you proposing for the reduction?” he asked.
And William Scott, co-chairman of the Township Housing Commission, wanted details in writing about the developers’ affordable-housing proposal.
Talley; Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville; Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman William Harrison; Steve Rooney, a member of the planning board and the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission; and planning board engineer Thomas Watkinson had a variety of questions about the downsized Lackawanna plan on issues such as parking and traffic flow.
Hampshire said it will revise its site plan, and offer more details, at its next stop, which is the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission meeting Jan. 25. It is expected that the Lackawanna developers who have to appear before the preservation commission twice, in January, as well as its Feb. 15 meeting.
The site plan will then go to the planning board.
“It’s a good start,” Schwartz said of the revised downsized Lackawanna plan. “It’s a very good start.”