By LINDA MOSS
At a Fourth Ward meeting Tuesday night, a developer unveiled his proposal to build seven townhouses on a small parcel on Orange Road, even as residents were expressing their dismay over the hundreds apartments slated to be constructed in their part of the municipality.
The townhouse development, small compared to other residential projects planned for Montclair, is being undertaken by Willow Street Partners LLC, developer Steven Plofker’s firm, and Michael Koep of Greythorne Development.
The townhouses would be built in the South End on a vacant, slender piece of land at 360 Orange Road, a site sandwiched between the Willowmere Court apartments and two residences owned by the Mental Health Association of Essex County, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said at the meeting, which she hosted and roughly 100 people attended at the Township Fire Department headquarters.
Since the Orange Road site is zoned for one-family homes, the developers will have to go to the Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to ask for variances to proceed with their townhouses, Baskerville said. That application would likely not be heard any sooner than September by the board, according to Township Planner Janice Talley, who was at the Fourth Ward meeting.
The townhouses, in a three-building complex, would each have three bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms, a garage and a parking space, Koep said. The development would have 14 parking spaces, and one affordable housing unit. When pressed by the audience, Loep estimated that the townhouses would be priced at about $500,000.
William Scott, co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission and the chair of the local NAACP housing commission, spoke about the history of the section of Orange Road where the townhouses are planned. The Essex County Mental Health Association in 2010 took the township to court, and won, in order to win approval for their residences — two six-family apartment buildings — on Orange Road.
The property at 360 Orange Road being discussed for the townhouses is 314 feet deep and about 75 feet wide, according to Koep.
“We’ve tried to come up with what we think is a reasonable proposal for the site,” he said. “I disagree with the notion that this is a non-conforming use … I believe that the zoning is wrong.”
But Koep’s proposal was met with skepticism and many questions by residents, who also discussed their concerns about the proposed redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza at the meeting. That mixed-use development, as envisioned now, would have 350 residential units.
Several attendees wanted to know why all this residential development was ending up in the Fourth Ward, and said they feared that suburban Montclair was being transformed into an urban environment, like Brooklyn.
Talley said that the township’s new master plan purposely tried to cluster multi-family dwellings along the Bloomfield Avenue corridor, which has the infrastructure to handle the additional development. The goal was also to create activity and bring patrons to local businesses on that stretch of road, according to Talley.
“I kind of think we’ve been a victim of our own success,” she said.
The residential development boom in Montclair is part of a larger national trend, because multi-family development is one of the hottest commercial real estate segments. That’s because of the heightened demand for apartments, fueled by demographic trends such as empty-nesters wanting to downsize from houses, Americans being unable to afford homes due to economic factors, and millenials not wanting to be tied down by real-estate ownership.
At the meeting Baskerville and Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager objected to the term “fast-track” being used to describe the Township Council opting to take over oversight of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan.
Baskerville said that “there is no rush to push something by” or “slip something through.”