Montclair developer Steven Plofker, left, and his development director, Kevin Costello, were at the Township Planning Board meeting Monday night. Plofker is seeking approval to add a six-story building to the site of the old Diva Lounge. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Threatened with a lawsuit, the township is trying to reach a settlement with the developer of the former Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue, raising concerns from residents who live near the site.

In addition to that potential litigation, at Monday’s Township Planning Board meeting Montclair developer Steven Plofker outlined his plans to revamp the former Diva Lounge site, renovating that two-story building and adding a six-story multi-family structure toward the rear of the property. He is seeking to create 10 dwelling units at the site.

Earlier in the meeting Monday night, before Plofker’s application, Township Planning Board Attorney Arthur Neiss disclosed that developer Michael Pavel was planning to sue the board over a decision it rendered in March on his property at 237-249 Lorraine Ave.

At that time, the planning board in a 5-4 vote denied Pavel’s request to amend his site plan for the building. He 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.

The planning board was scheduled to pass a formal resolution outlining its denial at Monday’s meeting, and roughly 20 residents who live near the Lorraine Avenue building showed up at the session for that matter. But the resolution was pulled from the agenda at the last minute, to the surprise and anger of the residents, with at least some fearing that the developer might be getting what he wanted through a negotiated settlement.

“You guys are really jerking us around,” Jennifer Haughton said.

About 20 residents who live near the former Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue were irked when a resolution regarding the project was pulled from the Township Planning Board’s agenda on Monday night. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

Neiss said he was going to be talking to Pavel’s attorney to try to negotiate a settlement of the case to avoid litigation and having to go to court.

“I can report as a fact that the applicant intends to file a lawsuit against the board’s action,” Neiss said. “There are discussions in an effort to address that … and honestly and frankly, to see whether or not litigation can be avoided. It was determined that we would pull this from the agenda today and revisit it within the next session of the board or the one after that.”

Neiss apologized to residents, adding “I realize some of you must be very frustrated” that the Lorraine Avenue resolution was no longer on the agenda. He added that it’s the state’s policy for lawyers try to settle cases, to unburden the crowded court dockets.

In other action the board began hearing testimony on Plofker’s plans for the former site of the Diva Lounge night club at 369-371 Bloomfield Ave., which is at the corner of North Willow Street and has been closed for several years.

Plofker has submitted a site-plan application for adaptive reuse of the building, which dates back to 1922 and was a former car showroom, by expanding it with a six-story addition toward the rear of the property. The look of the original brick façade of the structure facing Bloomfield Avenue will also be recreated, according to Plofker’s architect, John Reimnitz.

Architect John Reimnitz presented renderings of plans for the former site of the Diva Lounge, at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street, at Monday’s Township Planning Board meeting. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

At the hearing Plofker said he is looking to add 10 dwelling units to the site. The new building would have eight apartments, with another two loft units in the renovated Diva Lounge building on Bloomfield Avenue, according to Plofker. Of the eight apartments in the new building, two are duplexes with roof decks. Plofker is proposing to have 10 parking spaces, which would be on the first floor of the new six-story structure and would require a variance.

There will be four separate retail spaces at the site, with two facing Bloomfield Avenue and two facing North Willow, Reimnitz said.

Plofker’s plan is for two three-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedrooms.
“That is the first I heard tonight that you’re going to have three-bedrooms,” Township Planner Janice Talley told Reimnitz.

She suggested that having the two three-bedrooms could impact the amount of parking required for the residential units.

While the front of the building is the former Diva Lounge site, the site also includes, on North Willow, which slopes down, an auto repair shop with a parking lot that is used for storage of the vehicles being worked on. The existing building and the new one will be connected by a stairwell and elevator tower.

The hearing on Plofker’s application was continued until the planning board’s July 10 meeting.