By LINDA MOSS
Concerned residents have formed a new community group, Vision Montclair, that is circulating a petition opposing two controversial major redevelopments in the township.
The group has scheduled a meeting for Thursday evening, June 22, at 7, at 1 Cloverhill Place, which is on the corner of Cloverhill and Glenridge Avenue, said one of its organizers, resident and local real estate agent Adriana O’Toole. So far Vision Montclair has gathered roughly 140 signatures on the petition that was sent out by Beth Calamia Scheckel, another co-founder of the new group.
“I’d say that Adriana and I have been instrumental in organizing our own neighborhood group and trying to keep up the momentum, and then we recently connected with residents in the Cloverhill/Lackawanna area who have their own neighborhood group with a few community leaders, and it just seemed natural to bring ourselves together since we all are working toward the same goal,” Scheckel said in an email this week.
Both she and O’Toole have appeared at recent township meetings to raise objections to two mixed-use redevelopments, one at Seymour Street adjacent to the Wellmont Theater and one at Lackawanna Plaza, the site of a historic train station and a shopping center that once housed a Pathmark. The projects, both on Bloomfield Avenue and proposed by Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair, have significant residential components, 200 apartments at Seymour Street and 350 at Lackawanna Plaza.
Vision Montclair’s goal is to support “sensible development” and to rally opposition to the proposed redevelopments because of the traffic that they will generate and their impact on local quality of life, according to O’Toole. Traffic congestion in the midtown area is going to spill over and clog local streets, she said.
“We (the neighbors around Seymour Street) don’t see this as just a neighborhood problem but something that affects everyone in Montclair,” Scheckel said. “This is why we have come together with residents of other neighborhoods to protest these untenable developments. There are other groups in town with similar sentiments, too, like Save Montclair and the Justice Coalition (which is particularly interested in promoting affordable housing, which is a whole other unspoken issue with these plans). There is strength in numbers, and everyone’s voice should count.”
Last week the Township Planning Board, dissatisfied with what was presented, told Pinnacle to gather additional data for a traffic-impact study regarding Seymour Street. Scheckel was critical of the board.
“In our almost two years of attending Planning Board meetings, we have found that the board belittles and disrespects attendees during public comment, creating an atmosphere of intimidation,” she said. “Their meetings … often go on for five hours, with public comment sometimes starting after 11 pm. It should not be us against them. Because Montclair residents need to participate in municipal affairs but often can’t within the structure of board and Council meetings, we hope that through this and other Montclair-first groups we can allow everyone’s opinion to be heard and to count.”
Vision Montclair also claims that township schools can’t accommodate the influx of students these developments can bring, and that “Montclair is allowing Pinnacle to build on town-owned property.”
Defending the projects, Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson has cited a study done by township planning officials that found that dwellers in new apartments haven’t burdened the school district, averaging just six school-age children for every 100 housing units.
And Pinnacle President Brian Stolar said his company will be giving the township payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOT payments, for both the Seymour Street and Lackawanna Plaza redevelopments that are more than the properties are currently generating for the municipality. In addition, Pinnacle will be paying to lease the Seymour Street land from the township, according to Stolar.