By LINDA MOSS
Agreeing with many major recommendations made by planners and historic preservationists, a special Township Council committee on Monday night said that the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan should be downsized — to just 280 dwelling units from 350, with a smaller footprint — and that the site’s historic elements be preserved.
The three members of the council’s Economic Development Committee — Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager, who also sits on the board, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville and Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller — did a presentation on their proposed revisions to the redevelopment proposal at the Township Planning Board’s meeting.
The committee addressed, one by one, the 19 recommendations — suggested amendments — that the board had made regarding the draft redevelopment plan. The committee said it was on board with about a dozen of the recommendations, but did reject the remainder.
“Thank you, in particular, for the thought and care that you brought to your review of the initial draft of this important redevelopment plan,” Baskerville told the board.
“We’d like to make sure that you know that we respect all the work that you do,” she said. “Accordingly, we’ve taken your comments seriously. Many of the comments that you shared with us are comments that we previously expressed, and we’re very happy to incorporate those as well as to revise and revisit some of the recommendations that you shared with us … I believe that you’ll find that we embraced many of the recommendations.”
Now the amended redevelopment plan will go to the full council, and the local governing body will decide if it wants to implement the revisions that the EDC has suggested, Baskerville said.
“But I’m hopeful that with your assistance, we’ve set the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan on an excellent course, one that seeks to have an appropriately scaled development … duly respectful of the historic features and duly respectful of the neighbors who live in closest proximity … as well as the businesses that currently exist there,” she said.
The Pig & Prince restaurant is the one vibrant business open at Lackawanna Plaza now.
The EDC agreed that the mixed-use redevelopment proposed for Lackawanna Plaza, which was originally to have included 350 residential units, was too dense and should be scaled back to a maximum of 280, and that the project’s footprint is too big and there needs to be more open space, Baskerville told the board during her part of the presentation.
She didn’t explain how the EDC derived the 280 figure, and neither she, Schlager or Spiller responded to an email asking have they chose that number.
The committee also agreed with the board that historic elements of the site, home to a landmark train terminal, should be preserved, including its waiting room and terminal shed, according to Schlager.
Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, attended Monday’s meeting. The HPC made suggestions about Lackawanna Plaza that the board incorporated into its recommendations to the council. Bennett said that she was “relieved and pleased to hear” that the EDC wanted he site’s historic structures and features preserved.
As for the reduction of the units to 280, Bennett said, “I think the density is still a problem.”
The EDC gave a thumbs-down to a number of the board’s recommendations, including one that mandated that existing sight lines to all historic features and structures at Lackawanna Plaza be preserved. The EDC said sight lines should be kept for some, but not all, historic features, Baskerville told the board.
In addition, the committee rejected the board’s recommendation that a maximum square footage be established for the supermarket planned for Lackawanna Plaza, which would replace the Pathmark that closed there in November 2015, Schlager said during her part of the EDC presentation.
“The EDC disagrees because this creates an unnecessary limit on potential supermarkets,” the committee said in a memo to the board.
There have been talks with ShopRite to come in as the new anchor grocery store.
In an unusual move, earlier this year the council took control of the creation of the Lackawanna redevelopment plan from the planning board, which usually oversees such matters. The council, however, asked for feedback from the board on the draft plan.
In July the board roundly condemned the controversial redevelopment plan, saying that it was inconsistent with the Township’s Master Plan. Mayor Robert Jackson then charged the EDC with studying the board’s 19 recommendations regarding the 92-page plan that the council commissioned from consultant Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC of Hoboken.
Once the redevelopment plan was submitted on June 1, critics claim, it essentially mirrored what developers Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown had offered up for the site, a former shopping center, on Bloomfield Avenue.
During her part of Monday’s EDC presentation, Baskerville said that the bricked-up train platform sheds, now home to a Popeyes fast-food restaurant, should be opened up with storefronts facing the main plaza and parking lots.
The EDC agreed that the redevelopment needed larger setbacks along Glenridge and Bloomfield avenues, according to Schlager. The committee’s redevelopment-plan revisions include requiring a 10-foot setback from a drainage easement that runs along Glenridge Avenue, and a minimum 15-foot-sidewalk width between the building and curb on Grove Street.
While the EDC agreed with the board that a traffic study needs to be done to determine the impact of the redevelopment, it disagreed on the parameters, according to Spiller. The committee will recommend that the Lackawanna traffic study include Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues and the intersections with Cloverhill Place, Grove Street and Greenwood Avenue; the Bullock School driveway; Lackawanna Plaza and Gates Avenue; and North Willow Street.
The EDC turned down the board’s recommendation that the redevelopment plan leave open an option for the grocery store to be constructed on the site’s eastern parcel, which now has a parking lot and a TD Bank, Schlager explained.
“The EDC disagrees because allowing the supermarket to be built on the east parcel will negatively impact the neighborhood by bringing the noise and truck traffic associated with the supermarket directly adjacent to residential homes,” the committee said in its memo.
The board had also recommended that the redevelopment plan have a provision for affordable housing and that consideration be given to include workforce housing that gives local residents a preference.
“That [affordable housing] would be part of a redevelopment agreement, and not part of this plan,” Spiller told the board.
Finally, in its 19th recommendation the board suggested that the council refer the Lackawanna redevelopment plan back to the board for its evaluation.
But the EDC said that the decision to refer the plan back to the board “is the province of the governing body, which will render a decision on this matter at the appropriate time.”
Said Spiller, “We didn’t want to recommend to our colleagues how they would be voting on that issue.”
After the EDC completed its presentation, Board Chair John Wynn said, “While not 100 percent in agreement with us … they really have agreed to the ones [recommendations] that take this project in the direction that the Planning Board thinks it needs to be going.”
James Cotter, a Cloverhill Place resident who was at the board meeting, said that he was “cautiously optimistic that the council will heed the recommendations of the EDC and the Planning Board, both of which are in general consensus about the deeply flawed, first version of the Lackawanna plan.”
He added, “I’m pleased that the EDC recognized the need to respect both the historic elements of the site and the need to protect the surrounding neighborhoods. Ultimately, we’d like to see the number of residential units reduced to something closer to 200 units.”