By Tina Pappas
for Montclair Local
The planning board approved a plan for an 11-unit apartment building, although the site plan has been met with heavy opposition from neighboring residents for some time.
Developers Brian Mazzei and Michael Nirchio plan to build a three-story housing and retail space at 256 Park Street, located in Watchung Plaza. Plans for the development sparked an outpouring of opposition by local residents in recent weeks, citing concerns over more traffic problems to the area. During the July 9 meeting, which went past midnight, the residents expressed concerns over traffic and pedestrian safety issues they felt would stem from the development, particularly due to the lack of a loading dock in the original site plan.
In the end, board members sought a compromise from developers where one parking space would be used for a truck loading zone out of the 30 spaces proposed.
Four variances in the works were narrowed down to one parking variance, which would now entail a truck loading space area. Based on a suggestion by board member Carole Willis, developers agreed to turn a covered parking space into a loading zone, with plans to raise the ceiling to 10 feet. It would include a clearance sign installed with an alarm, triggered if hit by the roof of a vehicle.
The overall roof of the building would also be raised by six inches to effectively block machinery behind the parapet from being seen from the street.
Paul Sionas, site architect, showed the revisions that omitted other variances. Among them was to create up to 30 parking spaces, which eliminated the need for a parking variance. Another variance eliminated was for the side yard setback, which also increased the stairway and utility areas from four to six feet. A variance for the south-side driveway was also eliminated due to the decrease in building width and increasing the setback to the four-foot minimum. Some other revisions included the reduction of the building’s first-floor retail space from 2,300 square feet to 1,800 square feet and a sensory warning light notifying pedestrians that cars are exiting the driveway. Also included was a painted yellow line and stop bar for the driveway.
Traffic engineer Elizabeth Dolan presented Saturday peak traffic times, requested by board chair John Wynn at the prior meeting. Dolan previously gave findings on weekday traffic area times only, concluding that the development would not increase existing traffic trips generated by the new tenants and the first-floor retail business. She did however, predict some traffic back-up when entering driveway areas. She said that peak hours for traffic produced 530 cars passing though weekday mornings, 543 on weekday afternoons and 466 on Saturdays. She added that when the traffic data was summarized, on Saturday the peak hour of traffic occurred from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., adding that the new plan revisions would be beneficial to traffic flow.
Resident Claire Ciliotta, organizer of “A Safe Watchung Plaza,” said during the public comment she felt the traffic study done by Dolan did not take into account local residents’ experiences with traffic. She said many residents have taken photos of the congested traffic pattern that is typical in the area. Her petition garnered 144 signatures from residents demanding that board members reject any variances, particularly allowing a no-load zone on the street.
“I would never allow a no-loading zone because everything gets delivered by trucks these days,” said Ciliotta. “This plan does not take into account the gestalt of the area.”
Attorney Alan Trembulak said a development being planned is not responsible for area traffic.
“The law is very clear that the planning board cannot deny a site plan application based upon off-site traffic,” said Trembulak.
Resident Diane Moore told the board that it was premature to assume traffic patterns without having the knowledge of the type of retail business that would be housed in the building. However, Wynn said the retail space was now smaller in scale and would be manageable due to its size.
One area property owner, who did not clearly state his name during his public comment, stated it would positively impact property values.
Another resident, Glen Collins said, “The loading area is off the street now, so traffic won’t get that much worse.”
The developer is providing two affordable units in the building, according to Planner Janice Talley.
The Park Street variance application approval is pending Essex County Planning Board approval since Park Street is a county road.