Planner/consultant Peter Steck, left in foreground, and attorney Alan Trembulak speak to the Montclair planning board during Monday night’s meeting. In the background is developer Steven Plofker, who is asking the planning board to consider having four pieces of residential property on Claremont Avenue re-zoned for office use. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

It was a “no-holds-barred” discussion of policy at Monday night’s planning board meeting, and the township may get a new zoning category out of it.

Montclair may add a new zone for office spaces to its list of zoning categories; the planning board will recommend that the township create a new zone: OR-3 H, or high-density office-residential use in a historic area.

The board made the decision by unanimous vote during Monday night’s meeting, following a discussion of the fate of four pieces of property on Claremont Avenue, including the Georgian Inn.

Developer Steven Plofker is seeking to have the four properties, currently classified as R-2 and R-3 residential properties, re-zoned as office/residential zones. He came before the board that evening, accompanied by attorney Alan Trembulak and engineer Peter Steck, to discuss the possibility of a zoning change.

Plofker emphasized that he was not there to make a formal application that evening, but to have what he called “a no-holds-barred policy discussion.”

Plofker said that a lot of older buildings in Montclair, including Victorian-style houses, were difficult to renovate for contemporary office use. “I think, in my opinion, Montclair is in need of high-quality doctor’s office space, which we have very little of.” This meant that the township would be competing with other towns that did contain a number of doctor’s offices. Furthermore, he said, many doctors prefer not to work in “box” style offices, or to have their offices located directly next to a hospital.

Planning board member Martin Schwartz noted that the houses currently located on the properties are all classic Montclair homes, with a distinct architectural style.

Under Montclair’s guidelines for historic buildings, any major renovations or extensions may not be visible from the street, and the building’s aesthetic character must be preserved.

“I have a history of tearing buildings down, I have a history of saving them,” Plofker said. He told the board that he would be willing to work with them on any possible ways of preserving the buildings.

However, he said that he wanted flexibility to expand the buildings’ footprints. “They’re going to have to grow from side to side.” He added that it would be difficult to renovate the buildings solely from front to back to allow for office space.

“This is not a formal application…this is purely discussing policy,” Steck said. He seconded Plofker’s statement that there was a need for office space in Montclair. “Do you think there are advantages to allow office use on those three properties that are in the center of the block?”

“The reality is, new construction…can’t match the feel of old construction, for the most part,” Schwartz said.

The idea of a historic-area OR-3 zone was floated as a compromise that could suit several different needs. “I think this solves multiple agendas and gives you the flexibility,” Schwartz said to Plofker.

Board Vice Chair Keith Brodock said that he liked the idea of a compromise and a zone that met several different needs. However, he said that he was “slightly troubled” by the possible loss of residential housing, especially at a time when Montclair is trying to provide more housing stock.

This new zone, if approved, would only be applied to the Claremont Avenue properties. Planning Director Janice Talley said that it would be “an easier lift” to create the new zone for a specific area, rather than try to apply all of the new guidelines to every existing OR-3 zone in town.

However, there is the possibility of applying the new OR-3 H zone to other areas of Montclair, such as Plymouth Street, in the future if circumstances permitted.