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Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said that the Economic Development Committee is discussing changes to a controversial redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza. She talked about the plan at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting, saying that no decisions have been made on it yet. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Members of the Township Council tasked with studying a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza are looking to amend it, based in part on recommendations from local planning officials and historic preservationists.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said that the local governing body’s Economic Development Committee is discussing, but still vetting, changes such as reducing the number of apartments, 350 units proposed now for Lackawanna Plaza, and mandating a smaller footprint for the supermarket slated for the site.

Baskerville, Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager and Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller are all part of the EDC, which Mayor Robert Jackson asked to evaluate the controversial redevelopment plan that was submitted for Lackawanna Plaza June 1. Baskerville said the goal is to have council action on the plan in early September.

At its meeting, the council spent two hours listening to comments from residents, most of them disgruntled citizens unhappy with what they consider over-development in the township. Those residents brought up the mixed-use developments — which each have substantial residential components — slated for both Lackawanna Plaza and Seymour Street, adjacent to the Wellmont Theater.

The EDC has met to start studying the Lackawanna draft redevelopment plan, and has reviewed the recommendations that the Township Planning Board and the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission made regarding it, according to Baskerville.

The EDC “took to heart a lot of what they were saying, a lot of what was being shared there as well as the comments that we’re hearing here,” Baskerville said.

The EDC wants to “correspond with the planning board to share our amendments and some thoughts that we have,” according to Baskerville.

She reassured residents that council will not be “fast-track” finalizing the redevelopment plan, and EDC is looking to have the council take some action on it in early September.

The EDC is still “in the amending stages,” with no decisions made yet, Baskerville said.

The planning board offered more than a dozen recommendations regarding the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, most aimed at preserving the historic elements at the landmark train station, and reducing the mass and density of the project. It is being developed by Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown.

Baskerville and at-Large Councilman Bob Russo assured the meeting attendees that the council was seriously studying the plan, after the council was accused of being too lax and letting local developers get whatever they want in terms of development.

During the meeting a parade of residents went to the podium to complain about the burst of commercial development in the municipality, and their worries that new residents will strain the town’s infrastructure, school system and roads.

James Einloth asked the council whether any financial analysis had been done to determine how much tax revenue that proposed Lackawanna Plaza project would generate.

Jackson said no, since it was premature and there details of the redevelopment plan were still being ironed out. Einloth expressed surprise that there was no such analysis this far along in planning for the project.

“I have no doubt that the Lackawanna redevelopment plan is going to provide more tax revenue to this town as opposed to an empty lot,” he said. “The question is how much is it going to provide relative to other plans or other alternatives … Many people in this town would be interested in the financial implications of an alternative plan.”

The council also fielded questions about the effect on local roads that newcomers at the 350 apartments at Lackawanna and the proposed 200 residential units at Seymour Street. Jackson said he didn’t see any issue, noting that in the 1950s the township had 45,000 residents, versus about 38,000 now, and roads held up.

“What was the wear and tear then [in the 1950s]?” the mayor asked.

Resident Marshall Sampson responded, saying that today family’s and residents own more cars than they did decades ago, so there are more vehicles on the road.

Tracy Breslin also addressed the council about the pending development in the township.

“Unanimously, everyone I talk to, and I talk to a lot of people, are horrified by what these buildings look like,” she said. “They are not worthy of this town, they are not architecturally of high quality … when you walk down the street and look at these buildings, you literally don’t know where they came from … We deserve more. We deserve better.”

Breslin also complained about what she claimed was a lack of transparency in the redevelopment process for Lackawanna Plaza, but Baskerville said that there were still a lot of decisions and options being discussed regarding the plan.

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