By LINDA MOSS
The first draft of a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza was submitted to township officials last week, and some critics are already claiming that the 92-page document basically rubber-stamps what developers have controversially proposed for the 8-acre parcel on Bloomfield Avenue.
The Township Council has sent the plan, which the municipality posted on its website last Thursday, to the Planning Board for its recommendations. At this point the redevelopment plan, which allows a mixed-use project with up to 350 dwelling units and a new supermarket to replace a shuttered Pathmark, is just a draft. It will be subject to public hearings and must be approved by the council.
The municipal website says that the plan “is the culmination of two years of planning efforts which included two public workshop meetings and several Fourth Ward community meetings where residents, local businesses, township officials and property owners expressed their opinions and concerns about redevelopment of the property.”
The plan was drafted by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, a consultant, and it mirrors what developers Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown have already proposed for Lackawanna Plaza, plans that the planning board, preservationists and residents have voiced objections to at various public forums. The main worries are that the redevelopment plan, with its two multi-story buildings, would dwarf the site’s historic train station, won’t protect other historic elements at the site, and won’t provide enough open space.
Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, and Planning Board member Martin Schwartz both said that the proposed redevelopment plan is very similar to the developer proposal that was reviewed by, and met objections from, the board’s redevelopment subcommittee.
That redevelopment subcommittee will be meeting this week or next week to go over the newly drafted redevelopment plan, according to Schwartz.
“We’re looking forward to balancing a successful use of this valuable space while addressing the needs of local residents and respecting this important landmark and maintaining Montclair’s unique architectural quality of life,” he said.
The HPC will be discussing the plan for Lackawanna Plaza, now home to a near-vacant shopping center, at its June 22 meeting according to Bennett.
The redevelopment plan allows one of the most controversial aspects of what the developers are seeking, namely several hundred residential units. It also calls for a grocery store, at minimum 40,000 square feet, as part of the project. Developers have been in talks with ShopRite as their anchor tenant.
“A maximum of 350 dwelling units shall be permitted in the Plan Area,” the redevelopment plan says. “A mix of micro, studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units shall be permitted. Three-bedroom units may be permitted if required for compliance with affordable housing regulations.”
The redevelopment plan says it juggled various factors.
“The plan balances the often-competing objectives for the area identified in the visioning process by requiring a new supermarket, preserving important historic resources, ensuring pedestrian permeability throughout the site, locating open spaces in specific locations, and providing residential uses that include an affordability requirement,” the redevelopment plan document says. “This plan envisions the redevelopment of the Lackawanna Plaza area with a mix of uses that enlivens the eastern end of Montclair Center,” it says. “The plan includes standards for high-quality, pedestrian-oriented design, while respecting the historic character of the original Lackawanna Terminal building.”
The redevelopment plan’s land-use goals are to: provide a land-use mix that results in a sustainable positive fiscal and social impact for the township; ensure that it has a supermarket; provide stores and services for local residents and workers as well as drawing patrons from the broader community; have plazas and public-gathering spaces; provide mixed, multi-generational housing; offer affordable housing, including workforce housing; incorporate historic elements; encourage shared parking in structures that are hidden from view; and create programmable outdoor spaces.
Lackawanna Plaza consists of two parcels, a 4.38-acre property with the shopping center on the west side of Grove Street and a 3.44-acre one on the east side of Grove, which is now an open parking lot.
On the western plot of land, the redevelopment plan mandates a state-of-the-art supermarket with modern amenities, and a food court or restaurants, as well as additional retail space, particularly for the historic terminal building fronting on Lackawanna Plaza. Developers must also “provide open space between the supermarket and Bloomfield Avenue in a manner that will preserve the sight lines to the historic train station,” according to the plan.
The plan encourages mixed-use development, “with a maximum building height of four stories (five levels for a parking garage), that includes structured parking and residential uses above the new supermarket.”
The plan also mandates that “existing historic resources including the historic station waiting room building and station terminal facing Lackawanna Plaza” be maintained and protected, and encourages “reuse and or replication of historic features such as the horse water trough, the brick piers and steel and concrete awnings.”
Existing buildings that face Lackawanna Plaza should be renovated for retail use, according to the plan.
The redevelopment “concepts” for the eastern parcel include multifamily residential with a maximum height of four stories, above a parking level, with large setbacks from Grove Street.
For that eastern property the plan will also: provide on-site recreation; permit office and retail uses; provide enclosed parking for uses on east parcel and supermarket on west parcel; permit vehicular access from Bloomfield Avenue, just one curb cut, and Glenridge Avenue, up to two curb cuts; and eliminate vehicular access from Grove Street.
The redevelopment plan also set forth a number of requirements for parking at Lackawanna Plaza. Surface parking will only be allowed on the west parcel in the existing lot adjacent to Lackawanna Plaza and in some existing parking areas on the eastern site.
“On the east parcel, structured parking shall be located on the lowest level of the building and hidden from view due to topography to the extent possible,” according to the plan.
“On the west parcel, structured parking shall be ‘wrapped’ by buildings on all sides except on the south façade, which may face a courtyard enclosed by interior walls of residential buildings, and on the west façade facing the existing office building,” the plan says.
In a somewhat unusual move, Mayor Robert Jackson and the council took on oversight of creation of the redevelopment plan from the planning board in an effort to fast-track the process. Some Fourth Ward residents have criticized the length of time it is taking to get a replacement for Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.
The council has asked the planning board to review the redevelopment-plan draft at its June 26 meeting and offer its recommendations “as soon as practical thereafter to allow for the governing body consideration at its July meeting.”
At its last meeting the planning board questioned exactly how long it has to report back to the council, since under state statute it should have 45 days, which would give the board till August, not July. Planning Board Chair John Wynn couldn’t be reached for comment, and Township Planner Janice Talley said that the resolution “speaks for itself.”