save train sheds
The Lackawanna train sheds were enclosed by glass in the 1980s to create an archade shopping mall. Developer’s plan call for the razing of sheds to make way for parking.
Adam Anik/ for Montclair Local

By Jaimie Julia Winters

The Historic Preservation Commission voted Monday night to amend a resolution reiterating its recommendations that the train sheds at Lackawanna Plaza be saved, after board members David Greenbaum and John Reimnitz presented plans to incorporate the sheds into a supermarket and raze the old Pathmark.

The application for the historic Lackawanna railroad station property calls for a multi-use development including 154 units of housing with a rooftop pool and garden, a supermarket and some retail. The ticket area and waiting station, now the Pig & Prince restaurant, would be kept intact.

But developers contend the train platforms, now part of glass-enclosed mall, need to be razed to make way for more parking in front of the the supermarket to be housed in the former Pathmark. Historic preservationists however, seek to incorporate the train platforms, which are in front of the Pathmark, into the plans as part of the supermarket or an atriumed market.

A plan presented by developers at the Aug. 27 planning board meeting would increase the store square footage by 4,291 feet, up to 47,786, by bringing the former Pathmark store out to meet a set of covered train platforms, incorporating them into a glass-facade entrance. Plans were presented to keep 74 of the columns in place at the front of the retail and supermarket as covered atriums, and throughout the parking lot as decorative fixtures, while 24 would be removed with some of the those being relocated for use in a covered bus stop and at the entrance of the tunnel.

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Developers Pinnacle and Hampshire are in serious negotiations with a supermarket tenant, according to their attorney Tom Trautner. The name of the prospective tenant has not been released due to pending negotiations.

The commission’s amendment, including the new plans as a viable alternative to razing the sheds will be inserted, into the April 26 memo that states “the commission finds the proposed demolition of the historic train sheds to be inconsistent with Montclair Criteria for Demolition and with the Historic Preservation Element of the Township Master Plan. The commission recommends the applicant explore alternatives to retain the historic train sheds, including the concrete roof and steel support structures in their existing location. The Commission finds that the demolition of the historic train sheds is not necessary and contra to the intent of Montclair’s preservation ordinances and suggests that demolition of the defunct Pathmark store, a 1980’s redevelopment addition, be explored.”

The presentation opened with Greenbaum and Reimnitz’s survey of area big box parking lots.  

The developers’ plans call for the current 234-foot parking lot to increase to 371 feet, which Greenbaum said is larger than the length of a football field,  as well as lots at big box stores such as Toys R Us on Routes 46 and 10, Kohl’s on Route 46 and Costco near Willowbrook Mall. Parking lot lengths at those stores range from 264 to 350 feet.

save train sheds
An aerial view of Lackawanna with the Pathmark demolished to make a second parking area.
Rendering by John Reimnitz

“And these are high speed, state thoroughfares. Proposed parking is out of character with this historic district” he said.

Although the sheds were mistakenly identified as Bush sheds earlier in the process, chair Kathleen Bennett said the fact they were later identified as Butterfly sheds should not take away from their historical value. Bush sheds transitioned into Butterfly sheds in the 1920s because they were less expensive to build and reflect fiscal conservatism of the era, she said..

Greenbaum reiterated that the local, state and national historic designations of the train plaza include the sheds.

“They are preserved, and they are intact,” he said.

The redevelopment of the train sheds in 1984 by Montclair resident and architect Richard Blinder “was a brilliant vision by a brilliant architect,” Greenbaum added.

“Twice this property has met the needs of the community while keeping it intact,” he said.

Greenbaum pointed to other successful repurposed markets such as the Reading Terminal in Pennsylvania, West Side Market in Cleveland, the Central Market in Lancaster and the Grand Central Market in New York City.

Greenbaum presented plans to repurpose the sheds into a 56,000-square foot supermarket with dual entrances on Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues. With the demolition of the former Pathmark, parking would be placed on both sides keeping the current lot of 234 feet on Bloomfield Avenue. A dine-in area would be to the left of the Bloomfield entrance.

save train sheds
A rendering shows the train sheds as the supermarket.
Renderings by John Reimnitz

Reimnitz said the number of parking spaces would be consistent with the developer’s plan for about 200 spots and a loading dock in the rear.

James Cotter, on behalf of the Grove Terrace and Clover Hill Place neighborhood association, said the plans take in all the considerations by the neighborhood, including pedestrian access, better traffic flow, retention of a grocery store and, most of all, historical preservation in the Fourth Ward where much has been lost.

“The Crane House has been moved, the YMCA demolished,” Cotter said. “We support the HPC efforts to save the history in the Fourth Ward.”

The amendment and seven pages of the plans will be forwarded to the planning board. The next Lackawanna hearing with the planning board is set for Sept. 24.

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