By LINDA MOSS
First Ward residents voiced their concerns on a variety of topics — including development at the former Warner Communications building, the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza and pedestrian safety by the Starbucks on Valley Road — at a meeting Thursday night.
Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, who represents the First Ward, had about 25 people at his meeting, the 17th he has held since elected in 2012, at the Bellevue Branch of the Montclair Public Library.
During much of the 90-minute session, Hurlock fielded questions about development, namely the Warner office building in the First Ward and Lackawanna Plaza in the Fourth Ward. Jennifer Haughton complained about the Township Planning Board’s handling of developer Michael Pavel’s application to increase the square footage for his proposed plans for the Warner building, which is on Lorraine Avenue.
“I think the planners have an absolutely wrong vision for Upper Montclair,” Haughton said.
The planning board in a 5-4 vote rejected Pavel’s request, and the body was scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing that decision at its May 22 meeting. Haughton told Hurlock that the resolution was suddenly pulled off the agenda.
At the planning board’s meeting its attorney, Arthur Neiss, said that Pavel was threatening to sue and the resolution was taken off the agenda so both sides could talk and try to reach a settlement to avoid litigation. Neiss also apologized to residents, including Haughton, who had showed up at the meeting to see final action taken on the Warner resolution.
Hurlock, who is a lawyer, told residents that as a council member he has no control over the planning board, and characterized the planning board’s handling of the Warner matter as “absurd.” He added that he had probably had 30 conversations with Haughton about the Warner building.
“I can’t tell the planning board what to do, but as a lawyer, and as a plain little old citizen — not as a government representative — I would never in a million years make a determination or a decision based on someone might sue me later on, unless I know what I’m doing is illegal,” Hurlock said. “That’s different story.”
In terms of planning, he said that when the town was working on a new master plan he had successfully championed against part of it that would have strained the First Ward’s infrastructure.
“I beat the master plan back in the First Ward,” Hurlock said.
Residents on Thursday also expressed their dismay at the proposed plans for Lackawanna Plaza, the shopping center that once housed a Pathmark and is also home to a historic train station. The plans include the construction of 350 dwelling units.
Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, was at the meeting and said that her group was “absolutely horrified” when it saw the proposed Lackawanna Center plan last month. Hurlock advised residents to write to the Township Council and attend upcoming public hearings on the project to register their objections.
When one resident asked why the council was fast-tracking the Lackawanna project by taking over drafting its redevelopment plan from the planning board, Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury, who was at the meeting, responded.
He said the project had been discussed for several years now, with several “well-attended meetings” held on it.
“I’ve been kind of been there since the genesis,” Scantlebury said. “This thing has been plodding along.”
Hurlock started his meeting by asking residents to be patient about the “disruption” from the work PSE&G is doing along Grove Street, replacing a gas line that is more than 100 years old.
“They had a staging area outside of my house for about 2 ½ weeks where I couldn’t get out of my driveway for a couple of days, too,” he said.
That work will be done by August, according to Scantlebury.
As for First Ward roads, the township is in the process of getting blinking lights installed at the crosswalk by the Starbucks on Valley Road, similar to the one at Kings Food Market, and is also addressing some of the congestion with the parking there, according to Hurlock.
During the meeting Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, updated the group about environmental initiatives in the municipality. He said that the “shredfest” that the township held a month ago brought in 6 1/2 tons of confidential documents that 500 residents brought in to be shredded at the municipal public works yard.
The township is also in the midst of doing an energy-efficiency upgrade to 10 of the 12 municipal buildings, changing them to LED lighting as part of a program with PSE&G, according to Russell. PSE&G will foot the bill for 70 percent of the $200,000 cost, or $140,000, with the township permitted to pay the remaining $60,000, interest free, over a three -year period, he said.
“This will lower utility bills for town every month, by $40,000 a year … within five years we will be saving about $150,000, over the next decade save about a third of a million dollars, just from energy efficiencies,” Russell said.