By LINDA MOSS
The controversial Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan is going back to the Township Planning Board, but exactly what happens then and the timetable for any action is still under discussion.
And even as the Township Council, at its Oct. 3 meeting, decided to send the revised plan back to the board, at least one local group, Save Montclair, is asking for residents to seek even more amendments to the plan.
Planning Board Attorney Arthur Neiss asked for the status of the redevelopment plan toward the end of the board’s meeting on Monday night. Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager, who sits on the board, replied to him.
“The council voted to send the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment project back to the planning board,” Schlager said.
“To handle it?” Neiss asked.
“Yes, to handle it,” Schlager said. “I don’t know what any timetable [is] … Yes, it’s coming back.”
Earlier this year, in an unusual move, the council took over stewardship of the creation of a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, the site of a historic train station, the Pig & Prince restaurant and a now-empty shopping center. Developers Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown envision a mixed-use project there, originally proposing 360 apartments, parking and retail anchored by a grocery store. The redevelopment plan, done by a consultant, mirrored what the developers wanted.
Mayor Robert Jackson asked the planning board to review that 92-page plan, and the board skewered it, making 19 recommendations. For the most part, the planning board wanted the train station’s historic elements preserved, and the density of the project reduced, including the number of apartments.
Jackson then asked the council’s Economic Development Committee — which includes Schlager, Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville — to go through the planning board’s recommendations. The EDC agreed with 15 of the suggestions, recommending that the number of residential units be cut to 280.
At the its Oct. 3 meeting, Jackson suggested that the board be given an opportunity to come to an agreement or consensus on the four suggestions that the EDC disagreed with the planning board on.
“The EDC is meeting this week, on Friday, and they’re going to tell me how they want to proceed,” Township Planner Janice Talley said at Monday’s meeting. “And I’ll have a better understanding about the timeline.”
Save Montclair, which aims to promote “well-thought out development and preservation,” isn’t satisfied with the revisions in the redevelopment plan, saying they don’t go far enough.
“This plan still does not reflect what residents have overwhelmingly asked for in vision workshops and in review meetings,” the group said in an email. “It still provides for 280 residential units to be developed. This density issue and others require more time for consideration and review of all the plan details, to better shape and make this very important project optimized for the town’s maximum benefit.”
Save Montclair is urging resident to contact council members and: ask the developer hire a preservation architect with experience designing plans for restoration projects so that the historic train station “are the aesthetic focal point of this project”; reduce the number of residential units to maximum of 200; support adding more open spaces and “daylight” or expose Toney’s Brook “where it makes sense”; and to design walkable connections to Crane Park and Glenridge Avenue to encourage foot traffic downtown.
In other action at Monday’s meeting, the planning board approved an application from DJK Kang LLC to put a freestanding sign at 122 Watchung Ave., which is a building across from Watchung Plaza with its own private parking lot.
Attorney Alan Trembulak, representing DJK Kang LLC, noted that at a meeting last month the board said it was in favor of the sign request but wanted his client to address some existing conditions at the site’s parking lot.
“We have done that, and we have addressed and will address every one of the board’s comments,” Trembulak said.
For example, a number of private parking lot signs, and their poles, have been removed, according to the attorney. DJK Kang LLC also plans to re-stripe part of its the parking lot to create two handicapped parking spaces, to landscape two areas of the property, to reseal the parking lot and to remove a banner sign that it has hanging on the adjacent Boiling Springs Savings Bank.
“I’ve driven by there several times in the past couple of weeks and it is a 100 percent improvement than what was previously there,” Schlager said. “So I commend your client for following up with our suggestions, recommendations. It looks so much better.”