newish plans
The developers unveiled new plans to incorporate the steel stanchions from the train platforms the Aug. 6 planning board meeting.
Courtesy Marchetto Higgins Stieve

By Jaimie Julia Winters
winters@montclairlocal.news

Developers presented another plan for the Lackawanna Plaza lot to the planning board Monday night, incorporating the steel stanchions of the train platforms into a glass facade on the front of a proposed supermarket and as decorative fixtures throughout the parking lot, while a historian for the developer testified that the train platforms had lost their historical value due to previous alterations.

Plans call for the historic Lackawanna railroad station property to be built into a multi-use development including 154 units of housing with a roof-top pool and garden, and potentially a supermarket. Most of the historic buildings would be re-purposed into the design, but developers contend the train sheds, now part of glass-enclosed mall, need to be razed to make way for more parking for a supermarket. Historic preservationists seek to incorporate the train sheds into the plans, however.

train sheds
The Lackawanna Train Station in the 1920s.
Courtesy montclairhistory.org

Developers Pinnacle and Hampshire attorney Tom Trautner said they were in serious negotiations with a supermarket tenant who he said was amicable to the plans incorporating the stanchions. Trauter would not release the name of the prospective tenant due to pending negotiations.

Architect Bruce Stieve revealed preliminary plans in which the first train platform, closest to the former Pathmark building, would be maintained as an eight-foot canopied entrance but with a lower roof line creating an approximately 47,000-square-foot building. The new plans call for reuse of the stanchions in their current location in the parking lot, used as decorative details, maybe incorporating lighting, and planked by decorate asphalt to mimic train tracks. Where a prior plan called for salvaging 76 of the 98 stanchions with 47 remaining in place, the new plan calls for saving 82 with 74 remaining in the same place. The portion of the atriumed mall behind the Pig & Prince would also be kept with a new roof line. The plan would increase visibility of the supermarket and its signage and place the parking of about 200 spots closer to the building, both of which were crucial to the potential tenant, said Stieve. He said the plan was close to one of the options planning board consultant Barton Ross had given in his report on salvaging the train platforms by opening them up and incorporating them into covered parking.

“This combines preservation into the architectural design to maintain a memory,” said Stieve.

Historic Preservation Commission Chair Kathleen Bennett, however questioned the “newness” of the plan that she said was similar to one presented earlier in the year.

When questioned why the train platforms couldn’t be used as covered parking keeping the concrete roofs intact and incorporating the signage onto the roof, Steive said he didn’t think the sign could be supported by the current structure and that the tenant was not in favor of covered parking.

Stieve contended by opening up the space to a parking lot, there would be an option for more green space in the future if the parking lot proved too large.

A large part of the discussion included what elements were original and what were added on in 1980s when the mall was built over the train platforms as an inventory has not yet been undertaken.

On behalf of the applicant, Steven Bedford, who has a Ph.D. in Architectural History from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and a professional degree in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, claimed the train platforms do not meet historical criteria to be saved from demolition due to their original design that he described as “ordinary” and with the 1980s remodel that he claims “compromised” all original materials.

Prior claims that the train platforms were sheds designed by Delaware and Lackawanna architect Lincoln Bush were unfounded he said, showing a photo of a Bush design in Michigan which revealed an enclosed structure, not open-air platforms like the original structures at Lackawanna. He also produced a list of all Bush train sheds, which did not include Lackawanna or Montclair.

Contrary to local historians’ views that the mall redevelopers saved the platforms by incorporating them into their design, Bedford said the historical elements were compromised by removing parts of the stanchions and the old concrete roof, and with the addition of new columns, skylights and overlaying of new concrete.

He also challenged the national and state historic registry status of the train platforms which was done prior to the alterations of the platforms, but conceded that the waiting room and ticket area could still meet historical criteria as they are “more highly decorated.”
He listed a set of criteria determining his conclusion that included location of the platforms, setting or context of what they were, feeling that they were once train platforms, association to trains, design of the structure, workmanship and materials used, claiming that only the location remained intact.

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“It presently does not convey the feeling of a train platform or a former train platform. It feels like a small indoor mall. A train platform area would have a transparency that the current structure does not. Right now the former train platform elevation looks like a wholesale market or warehouse loading dock with the addition of extraneous decoration that implies there once was a truss where there never was one,” he said.
But the board argued that the train platforms were part of the entire historic value of Lackawanna.

“You are not from here. But locals walk in there and know it’s part of a train station. An element of your conclusion is that it is subjective, but it’s about preserving this for the community,” said Chairman John Wynn.

Board member Stephen Rooney asked about the possibility of bringing back the platforms to their original state, to reinforce Lackawanna’s history as a train depot, and whether Bedford thought the original materials had been too compromised by 1980s alterations to restore. Bedford said he did not know.

newish plans
The train platforms in the 1970s prior to them being covered with the mall construction.
Courtesy Steven Bedford

Ross’ three options to re-purposing the sheds included allowing for parking in the train sheds with the freestanding steel columns, or stanchions, to remain in place with their reinforced concrete roofs; for the train sheds to be adaptively reused as the new grocery store with skylights and a local “vendor market” feel; or for a 65,000-square foot supermarket with the train sheds becoming an attractive entrance and architectural focus of the new store.

Although Ross conceded that repairs would need to be done to the roof canopies, he suggested that they be restored to be used in a covered parking plan for not a only historic perspective, but also to “visually mitigate the sea of asphalt parking.”
“They [the platforms] are historic in their own right, they are 100 years old,” he said “We peal back the layers in historic preservation… the historic feeling is then captured and it gives you a historical perspective.”

Planning Board attorney Dennis Galvin said because the developers are using private money, they are not subject to a historic review of their plans. In the end “it will be up to [the planning board] to decide on what will be preserved,” he said.