By LINDA MOSS
A loading zone on Church Street, by outdoor cafes and shops? A 4-foot-wide sidewalk in front of a six-story building on South Willow Street? Parking spaces eliminated during construction of a major project, but no clear explanation of how they would be replaced during the work period?
The Township Planning Board on Monday night had lot of questions, and sharp criticism, for the redeveloper of Seymour Street, the mixed-use project slated to be built adjacent to the Wellmont Theater.
At least one board member, Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo, repeatedly blasted representatives of Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair for the options it was presenting for the project, with other board members chiming in with their concerns. During the meeting DeSalvo referred to some of Pinnacle’s proposals as “crap,” “god-awful” and “actually bordering on offensive.”
So while some officials had believed that the Seymour Street site plan might have been ready for a vote at the meeting, with the board raising so many questions the hearing was once again continued, to a special Aug. 7 meeting.
The redevelopment, being undertaken by Pinnacle and Brookfield Properties of Manhattan, will be constructed on a 3.5-acre site that is now home to the former Social Security Administration building and STS Tire and Auto, a block on Bloomfield Avenue between Seymour and South Willow streets.
One of the project’s buildings, on South Willow, will be six stories tall, with 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces and roughly 30,000 square feet of retail space. The second building, seven stories tall, has two stories of office space and five floors of parking.
The board this week resumed hearing testimony from Pinnacle’s traffic expert, John Harter, who described road improvements along Bloomfield Avenue that Essex County has proposed and is seeking funding for, and the Pinnacle committed to doing even if the county can’t get the money for them. Those changes are all meant to ease traffic woes along the major county artery, which would lessen the impact of traffic coming from the Seymour Street project once it’s completed, according to Pinnacle officials.
In his testimony, Harter said that a new left-turn lane would be created on South Fullerton Avenue where it intersects Bloomfield Avenue, a difficult five-corner crossing where traffic often gets backed up past the entrance to the Crescent Parking Deck. In order to make room for that new lane, about a half-dozen parking spots and a loading area would have to be eliminated on South Fullerton, according to Harter.
When he said that it was “viable” to simply move the loading area over to Church” Street, several board members raised objections, including Martin Schwartz.
“I’m not sure that’s going to work, sir,” said Schwartz, pointing out that there were a number of restaurants on the street that have outdoor seating.
When Harter said it would only be for short-term loading, DeSalvo asked him how he would feel if he “was sitting outside having your cappuccino, while a diesel truck came” by and was idling.
“Church Street has been designated one of the great downtown blocks,” DeSalvo said. “I’m not sure you want to turn it into a loading zone.”
Harter then suggested that the loading zone could be moved to the area in front of the Crescent deck, an idea that drew complaints from residents later in the meeting.
The traffic consultant also described the road improvements that would be made right by the Seymour Street site. Those include creating a pedestrian crosswalk at Seymour and Bloomfield Avenue, with a bump-out to shorten the distance that has to be traversed. In addition, left-turn lanes would be created on both approaches to Willow Street from Bloomfield Avenue, according to Harter.
Twenty parking spaces would have to be eliminated on Bloomfield Avenue to make way for those changes, he said.
During that discussion, Pinnacle disclosed that under its plan the sidewalk on front of its six-story primarily residential building on South Willow would only be four-feet wide. While such a narrow sidewalk is fine in front of a house, in front of a high-rise the effect “is claustrophobic and god-awful,” DeSalvo said
“We’ve got to stop this … A pinch here, a squeeze there, it doesn’t matter how it looks … I’m so tired of that mindset,” he said. “Can we come up with some answers that are more in keeping with Montclair instead of Newark or Hudson County or New York? The answer is not to pinch a four-foot sidewalk in front of a six-story building. The answer is not to put a diesel truck on Church Street. You guys know this. Stop bringing this crap.”
At that point the meeting’s attendees applauded.
The session ended after Reuben Twersky, Pinnacle’s vice president of development, presented a series of charts and statistics about how much public parking is available in Montclair now, how much will be displaced by the construction and new development, and how Pinnacle plans to accommodate those who need to park in town in the interim.
“I feel at a disadvantage not having seen this before,” board member Carmel Loughman said of the data that Twersky was presenting.
DeSalvo and several other board members echoed her complaint.
“To me, this makes less than no sense,” he told Pinnacle. “It’s 11 o’clock at night, and I can’t even understand the numbers I’m hearing because I haven’t had a chance to review it. I vote we table this, and you guys get your parking ducks in a row, and we’ll come back … on another day. This is actually bordering on offensive.”
Said Schwartz, “With you standing up here and we not seeing this beforehand, it’s just passing right over at least my head and I think some others … So coming today and just throwing this up on the board and expecting us to react to it, given the complexity that we’re dealing with, it’s just not working.”
Parking is already a challenges in Montclair, and if the problem is exacerbated while the Seymour Street project is being built visitors will stop coming to local restaurants and shops, DeSalvo said. Parking is the “lifeblood” of those businesses, according to DeSalvo.
If parking problems increase those merchants “will suffer and die, and instead of having 20, 30 or 40 mom-and-pop businesses, we’re going to be left with … the kind of retail we have at Valley & Bloom, which are big chains,” he said. “I don’t want this for that for this town.”