By LINDA MOSS
Following fierce opposition from residents and historic preservationists, developers have dramatically downsized their plans for Lackawanna Plaza, in terms of mass, density and residential units.
The site plan submitted last Friday, Dec. 1, for the property on Bloomfield Avenue, which straddles Grove Street, includes a grocery store at the former location of Pathmark, on the west side of the parcel.
The plan also puts a four-story multifamily building, with 154 units and an outdoor deck and pool, on the east parcel, behind the TD Bank. It will have a parking garage beneath it as well as surface parking. There is currently a parking lot on that plot.
“I think it will be a great ratable for the town and as I understand , too, there is a lot of preserving the historic elements there and in some cases enhancing the historic elements,” Township Mayor Robert Jackson said. “Cross my fingers, but I think it kind of gets closer to what people were hankering for there, which is a good thing.”
With the application for site plan and variances, the developers have decided to proceed and develop the Lackawanna Plaza property under the site’s existing zoning, rather than redevelop it under a controversial redevelopment plan that would supersede existing zoning.
The site plan now will have to go before the Township Development Review Committee, which includes two Planning Board members, one Zoning Board of Adjustment member, Township Planner Janice Talley and the planning board engineer. The next step after that is for it to be reviewed by the Township Historic Preservation Commission, with it then finally ending at the Montclair Planning Board for approval.
The corporations listed on the application, which was filed with the Township Planning Department and still needs review and approval, are HP Lackawanna Office LLC and and Lackawanna SPE LLC. That entity is majority-owned by Hampshire Cos. of Morristown.
Hampshire had partnered with Montclair’s Pinnacle Cos. to redevelop the Lackawanna Plaza site, which now houses the Pig & Prince Restaurant, as well as a mostly vacant shopping center, a historic train station and several small office buildings. But the preliminary proposal the developers brought to the township caused an outcry.
The proposal, which was echoed in a draft redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, called for a mixed-use development anchored on the west parcel by a large supermarket with apartments and parking above it, as well as having retail space. The east parcel was also slated to have residential units and parking. In total, 360 apartments were proposed by the developers.
But during meetings at the Township Council and Planning Board, residents and preservationists voiced their objections to the redevelopment proposal. The Montclair historic commission said that the proposed west parcel building was so massive that it would dwarf and hide the historic train station and result in the destruction of historic elements of the site. Residents worried that the project would also create traffic problems.
With the site plan submitted last week, it appears the developers are following the existing footprint on Lackawanna Plaza’s west parcel.
Fourth Ward residents have been clamoring for a replacement for the Pathmark, which closed in November 2015. Some community activists have claimed that this area of the township has become a virtual food desert, with few healthy and affordable options for those in that end of town.
Earlier in the year a Pinnacle official confirmed that it was in talks with ShopRite about coming to Lackawanna Plaza as an anchor tenant. It’s not clear what the status of those negotiations is now.
The development of Lackawanna Plaza has had many twists this year. Trying to move the project along, Jackson took over stewardship of it and the council commissioned a redevelopment plan for the site.
But the draft of the redevelopment plan essentially mirrored what Pinnacle and Hampshire had proposed, with its mass and density, drawing criticism. The planning board evaluated and panned the redevelopment plan, offering 19 recommendations for changes.
The council’s Economic Development Committee then reviewed the planning board’s suggestions and recommended that the council go along with many of them. Jackson then sent the redevelopment plan back to the planning board, which is where things stood until the new site-plan application. Now a redevelopment plan isn’t necessary.
Pinnacle President Brian Stolar and Todd Andersen, a Hampshire principal and executive vice president of acquisitions for the firm, couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Jackson said that he expects the revised plan to be well-received by residents, and that it is “much more in line” with what the community wanted. The developers are looking to bring in a quality grocery store for residents, according to the mayor.
“It’ll be a great ratable for the town,” Jackson said.
The project is in the Fourth Ward and its councilwoman, Renee Baskerville, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The residential building would have 12 studio units, 14 micro units, 74 one-bedroom units and 54 two-bedrooms.
Talley said that the municipality is awaiting a number of additional documents from the developers, including a traffic study.
Kathleen Bennett, chair of the historic commission, said that her group would have “to keep on top” of the new proposal because it is only a preliminary plan
“The residents of Montclair realize what a wealth of architectural history we have here within the town, residential and commercial and municipal buildings,” Bennett said. “I think they’re really adamantly opposed to seeing it destroyed.”
James Cotter was one of a number of residents of Cloverfield Place, near Lackawanna Plaza, who had voiced opposition to the original 360-unit proposal for the site.
“The most important considerations for the residents who live in the shadow of Lackawanna was density and traffic, both of which will hopefully be mitigated by downsizing the footprint of the apartments,” Cotter said.
“That said, the developers are missing a rare opportunity to create a landmark property. This new plan does not add green space to our downtown and does not make use of the tremendous historical assets of the site. I hope the end result does not reflect the terrible design elements of other recent buildings, such as Valley and Bloom.”