by LINDA MOSS
During a four-hour meeting, the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday night began hammering out recommendations for the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, aiming to force developers to preserve the heritage and incorporate the “DNA” of the landmark train station into the project.
In painstaking detail, the commission discussed changes it wants made in the first draft of the redevelopment plan, which critics claim that as written will dwarf the station and permit developers to destroy some of the site’s historic elements, such as its former train sheds. The plan now calls for a minimum 40,000-square-foot supermarket, 350 apartments, retail space, parking and open space at the Bloomfield Avenue site, two parcels that span Grove Street.
At the meeting Carmel Loughman, a Township Planning Board member, implored the commission to carefully pore over the redevelopment plan and tighten its wording so that Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown don’t have any leeway to eliminate any of the station’s historic elements.
“I view you guys as the guardians of this historic building. … I feel like you need to be firmer, in my view,” Loughman said after hearing some of the commission’s suggestions.
Time is of the essence for the commission, because it needs to provide its input to the Township Planning Board before that body’s meeting on Monday. That’s because the Township Council fast-tracked the creation of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, taking on oversight of the plan’s creation from the planning board.
The council wants the planning board’s recommendations on the proposed redevelopment plan, drafted by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, in time for the governing body’s July meeting.
Commissioner David Greenbaum said that the planning board’s redevelopment subcommittee had recently met and found the proposed Lackawanna plan wanting. That subcommittee includes members of the HPC, the planning board and the council’s economic development committee.
The subcommittee looked to successful re-adaptive uses of historic sites, such as Fanueil Hall in Boston and the High Line in Manhattan, as models for Lackawanna Plaza’s future, according to Greenbaum.
“I think that’s the important thing, leveraging the train station both in its structural form and the idea of a train station, in the design DNA of the new development,” he said, rather than just envisioning Lackawanna Plaza as a mixed-use commercial property.
The subcommittee also discussed that if the developer was not able “to comply with this particular vision for the property, that perhaps it may be best if the town encourage another developer to take a crack at it who would be more respectful and mindful of the value of this historic asset in our community,” according to Greenbaum.
The commission’s recommendations try to put teeth in the redevelopment plan’s language, so there’s no wiggle room or ambiguity that will permit destruction of the station’s historic assets.
For example, currently the redevelopment plan says “preservation and adaptive reuse of historic features and structures on the site is recommended to the extent possible.” The commission is recommending that the word “recommended” be changed to “required.”
The commission also wants the plan to leave open the option of the project’s supermarket, which will replace a closed Pathmark, being built on the site’s east parcel, now a surface parking lot, “so as to provide maximum flexibility for preservation of the Lackawanna train shed.”
The proposed redevelopment plan only describes the train stations as being listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Commission Chair Kathleen Bennett talked about the importance of the plan listing all the station’s bona fides, including the fact that it is listed in the state’s Register of Historic Places and its designation as a key building in Montclair Center Historic District.
The commission also wants more clarity in the redevelopment plan regarding TD Bank, which is not part of the redevelopment site even though it adjoins it.
“What happens if TD Bank decides that location is not viable?” commissioner Jason Hyndman said.
The commission also wants working changes on the redevelopment plans so that the station’s existing masonry piers and steel and concrete canopies will be preserved.
And in another language tweak, the commission wants the redevelopment plan to say that the view to the station’s former waiting room, now home to Pig & Prince restaurant, “shall be maintained,” rather than “should be maintained to the greatest extent possible.”
In addition to Loughman’s remarks, the commission heard criticism of and suggestions regarding the redevelopment plan from two additional residents, Michael Peinovich and Frank Rubacky.
Peinovich, who lives on Cloverhill Place, said that the redevelopment will bring traffic to his tiny street and will threaten the very culturally diverse Pine Street neighborhood. Lackawanna Plaza is in the Fourth Ward, represented by Councilwoman Renée Baskerville, and some of its residents have been clamoring for a supermarket to finally replace Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.
“Renée has been seduced by the fact that there’s going to be a supermarket [as part of the Lackawanna redevelopment],” Peinovich told the commission.
Cloverhill Place, which runs north and south between Claremont Avenue and Glenridge Avenue, has a neighborhood group that is working with a new organization in town, Vision Montclair, to fight several redevelopments, including Lackawanna Plaza. Cloverhill residents are going to suggest to township officials that either their street dead-end at Glenridge Avenue or be made into a one-way street so it doesn’t get traffic from redeveloped Lackawanna Plaza, Peinovich said.
The commission was asked to weigh in on the redevelopment plan by its member and representative on the planning board, Stephen Rooney.
“I felt we needed to get into it right now,” he said.
Hyndman volunteered to put together the commission’s recommendations, incorporating the suggestions of Loughman and the two other residents, over the weekend so it’s ready to be sent to the planning board in time for its meeting on Monday.
The Historic Preservation Commission will later draft a formal resolution with its recommendations to give to the council.