Lorraine
The Township Planning Board voted against approving a site-plan amendment for an expansion of the former Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue at its meeting on Monday. Planner Peter Steck, left, testified at the hearing for the developer, who was represented by attorney E. Neal Zimmermann, right. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

The Township Planning Board made decisions on two controversial applications on Wednesday night, voting down one to expand the former Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue and approving a revised plan that will keep the former Clover Rest Nursing Home on Madison Avenue intact.

After hearing testimony in a continued hearing on the application by developer Michael Pavel, the board voted 5-4 against approving his site-plan amendment for 237-249 Lorraine Ave.

Pavel was looking to increase the office space on the building’s planned second floor from 5,300 square feet to 8,971 square feet, nearly 3,700 more square feet more than the board had previously approved. The first floor of the building will have retail space, and the revised site plan would have entailed construction of a 37-foot rear addition on the property.

Several board members, the Township Historic Preservation Commission, and residents voiced their objections to Pavel’s revised plans. Some claimed that the enlarged building’s look wouldn’t be compatible with the historic design of that part of the Historic Upper Montclair Business District on Valley Road, with its Tudor facades and older buildings, like the one occupied by Williams-Sonoma.

“This is in direct and kind of stark contrast to anything else in Upper Montclair,” said resident Jennifer Haughton.

Both planning board Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo and board member Robin Schlager were critical of Pavel for taking the approach of first getting approval for one site plan and then coming back to ask for more office space.

DeSalvo accused the developer not acting in good faith and trying to “slide one in” by revising his original plan, making it bigger.

“We live in a beautiful town that’s not meant to look like Route 46,” DeSalvo said.

He added that this might be the case that has to be litigated to determine how much power and say the

Historic Preservation Commission has with its recommendations on proposed development.

Voicing her opposition to the application, Schlager cited a resident who said they “felt that the rug was pulled out from under them” when Pavel revised his site plan.

“This is exactly how this feels,” she said. “This building actually is in essence in people’s backyards. … I can’t support this and be able to live with myself, so to speak.”

Board Chair John Wynn spoke in favor of the application, adding that the board can try to mitigate any offending features of the plan, for example, with requirements for screening on its HVAC equipment.

“This is a business district. … We want to attract traffic to a business district,” Wynn said. “It helps the business district thrive.”

Board member Anthony Ianuale said there was a need for office space and that the Warner Communications project could help revitalize that part of town.

Pavel’s attorney, E. Neal Zimmermann, had called a planner, Peter Steck, to testify Wednesday in support of Zimmermann’s argument that the revised plans for the Warner Communications building were in fact complementary to structures immediately adjacent to it. Zimmermann later said he didn’t know if his client would appeal the board’s ruling.

Clover Rest to stand

In the second application on its agenda, the board approved a new plan by Luther Flurry, the former executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, and his wife, Jarmila Packard, for property at 14-16 Madison Ave. The site includes the former Clover Rest Nursing Home and a smaller one-family house.

In a move opposed by some residents in the neighborhood, Flurry had originally sought approval to raze the Clover Rest building and subdivide the property into three lots, so that two homes could be built on the front lots while the existing one-family would stay as it was.

But after meeting with residents, Flurry and his wife decided to change their plans and instead ask to subdivide their land into two lots, and then renovate the Clover House residence and keep the smaller house that’s behind it, according to the couple’s lawyer, David Owen.

Owen also called an architect, Scot Surbeck, who showed the board renderings of how the renovated Clover House will look. The former nursing home has been cited for township code violations after neighbors complained about the deteriorated state of the building.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, DeSalvo wanted assurances that Flurry will get repairs on the former nursing started as soon as possible. Owen told the board that Flurry expected to apply for construction permits in mid-June, and get the exterior work on the house done by Sept. 30.