BY LINDA MOSS
The Township Planning Board on Monday night approved the conversion and expansion of a two-story building on North Willow Street to permit retail space on the first floor and two two-bedroom apartments upstairs.
At its meeting the board granted several variances sought by EKR Associates LLC, whose managing partner Kenneth Alter was present, for the property at 10 North Willow St.
EKR’s attorney, Stephen Hehl, told the board that the renovations his client planned would improve the building’s appearance. The first floor is now used for storage, and the second floor has a three-bedroom apartment, according the Hehl.
“This is a great adaptive reuse of this piece of property. … We think this is a great improvement to the property, certainly in keeping with the redevelopment of the area,” he told the board.
In voting in favor of the variances for the mixed-use project, Board Chair John Wynn said, “I agree … it is an improvement from what’s currently there. And it will improve, overall, the area. The variances … are not major issues.”
However one of the variances that EKR received, permission to have just seven parking spaces rather than the nine required by the township, came with a caveat. EKR’s Alter agreed that one of the tenants for the new apartments will have two dedicated parking spaces, and the second apartment tenant will have one.
Hehl called three witnesses, including architect Matthew Jarmel and civil engineer Gerard Gesario.
The site is directly behind the Diva Lounge property, which Montclair developer Steven Plofker is developing into retail space with an addition, a six-story apartment building.
Jarmel testified that the North Willow Street property now has 3,035 square feet. The first floor totals 1,712 square feet, which includes 877 square feet for a garage, 311 square feet for office use and a bathroom. The second floor is 1,323 square feet and is now a three-bedroom apartment, and part of that level hangs over the first floor, according to Jarmel.
EKR will create a storefront on the first floor, with 1,000 square feet of retail and 387 square feet of storage for residents.
“We’re hoping to get … potentially a boutique or an art gallery,” Jarmel said regarding the storefront space.
Renovations will convert the three-bedroom unit to two apartments, Jarmel said. A second-floor balcony will also be added to the building, according to the architect.
There will be some expansion of the building, mostly on the second floor, Gesario testified.
A third witness, professional planner George Williams of Montclair, testified that the setbacks that the EKR sought, many for existing nonconforming uses, would not be a detriment to the public good or the Township’s Master Plan, and in fact are in keeping with it.
Regarding the parking variance, Williams said that during business hours the residential parking spaces will not be needed by tenants and can be used by retail patrons, and during the evening when tenants are home — and retail is closed — those spaces will be free for residents to use.
“In that sort of shared-parking scenario … there is more than adequate parking to satisfy the real parking demand on this site,” Williams said.
In other action, the board named member Keith Brodock its new vice chair. He replaces Jason DeSalvo, who stepped down from the board earlier this year for personal reasons. Brodock is the Township Environmental Commission’s representative on the board.
Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager said that she and fellow board members Martin Schwartz and Craig Brandon were part of the nominating committee that recommended that Brodock be named vice chair.
Brodock wasn’t at Monday’s meeting, but Township Planner Janice Talley said she had spoken to him and he had agreed to fill the vice chair post.