By Jaimie Julia Winters
About 20 residents and historians attended the planning board hearing Monday night, June 18, with plans of presenting opposition to Lackawanna redevelopers’ proposal to raze the historic train sheds, only to be told that the developers were a no-show. Copies of the agenda in back of the room still listed the Lackawanna project as the only application to be heard that night.
“At 3:30 today we had a request from the applicant requesting to postpone,” said Chairman John Wynn.
Developers Pinnacle and Hampshire wanted the postponement due to “recent issues that have been raised” with the project, said secretary Janice Talley.
Recent developments could refer to a 68-page report obtained by Montclair Local by planning board architectural consultant Barton Ross, who recommends re-purposing the train sheds along with the rest of the historical structures of the 1913 train station. Another could be a newly circulating web petition on PlanetCivic to save the Lackawanna Station train sheds by re-purposing them as a supermarket.
The project proposed over four years ago, would transform the historic Lackawanna railroad station property into a multi-use development with 154 units of housing and a roof-top pool and garden, and could include a supermarket. Most of the historic buildings would be re-purposed in the design, but developers have said the sheds need to be razed to make way for more parking for a supermarket. Since ShopRite pulled out in January, developers citing the privacy of real estate negotiations, have not revealed any supermarket companies that have shown interest but contend the companies will not work within plans to incorporate the train sheds.
Historic preservationists are now calling for more time to come up with a better plan for the historic property in order to save the train sheds and incorporate them into the plans.
However in May, contending the project needs to move along and that Fourth Ward is in need of a supermarket “sooner than later,” the council passed a resolution giving its support of the project.
“We don’t always do this [pass a resolution in support of redevelopment], but I am not willing to see this drag on and on. We have seen a sound plan,” said Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville when she introduced the resolution in May.
Ross had intended to present three options to re-purposing the sheds at the meeting:
• Option one calls for parking in the train sheds with the freestanding steel columns, or stanchions, to remain in place with their reinforced concrete roofs and act as a protective weather-barrier for parked cars, “a historical monument to the train station, and as an architectural focal point to aesthetically break up the increased mass of asphalt parking.”
• Option two “came out of the HPC hearings,” Ross said, and calls for the train sheds to be adaptively reused as the new grocery store with skylights and a local “vendor market” feel. The former Pathmark masonry building built in the mid-1980s should be demolished and replaced with added parking, loading and support areas.
• Option three is a combination of the two ideas, including a 65,000-square foot supermarket with the historic train sheds becoming an attractive entrance and architectural focus of the new store.
“With this [third] option, reduced parking space availability could become an issue,” the reports reads.
“Currently none of the three are proposed and the applicant is missing an excellent opportunity to reconstitute and rethink one of the most recognizable public spaces in all of Montclair for the 21st century,” Ross wrote in the report. “Option [one] was just discussed above as being the best compromise between what is currently proposed and what the public wants, which is a tangible reuse of the historic train sheds.”
Also in the Ross report is a grocery store report from Mehmert Store Services, which provides store planning, interior design and decor focused on supermarkets. Located in Wisconsin, the company has re-purposed former lumber-yard buildings, an historic theater and textile company into food centers. The company contends the train sheds could be used as the supermarket itself or for parking.
Rules of procedure for planning board hearings require any third party used as experts testify in person at board meetings in order for board members to ask questions.
Tom Trautner, attorney for the site developers Pinnacle and Hampshire, and Brian Stolar, president of Pinnacle, told planning board members in May that they doubted the historical value of the stanchions and the concrete of the sheds. They had said they would bring in their own historical experts to testify at meeting that had been planned for Monday night.
Over the last few months, residents who support saving the sheds, which were made into a mall with a glass atrium covering in the 1980s, have suggested they be kept intact and re-purposed as a food court-type market, an art/antique market or even an amenity space with outdoor seating.
Last month, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) stated in a memo to the planning board that it found the developer’s plans for demolition of the Lackawanna train sheds to make way for parking inconsistent with Montclair’s code on demolition of historic properties and that the sheds met the criteria for retaining due to their historical significance.
Montclair resident and HPC member David Greenbaum posted the petition on Planet Civic.
The train sheds were designed by the engineer Lincoln Bush, whose design allowed passengers to be protected from the elements while allowing the exhaust gases from locomotives to escape. Bush train sheds were built at five stations, Montclair’s being the only one in a smaller town.
Lackawanna Station was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1972, and the National Register of Historic Places the following year.
The next meeting is planned for July 23.