By LINDA MOSS
The developers of Lackawanna Plaza are still looking for a grocery store to anchor their project, with ShopRite backing out after the size of the proposed supermarket at the site was dramatically reduced and reconfigured.
Brian Stolar, president of Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair, discussed efforts to land a supermarket to replace the former Pathmark space at the Bloomfield Avenue shopping center Thursday night, at the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission’s meeting.
A potential tenant, ShopRite, had been interested in coming to Lackawanna Plaza when plans allocated 65,000 square feet for a supermarket, Stolar told the HPC. The developer and the grocery-store chain were in talks. But the latest, downsized Lackawanna plan only allows for a 44,000-square-foot grocery store, too small and not the right shape for ShopRite, he said.
“We are disappointed that we could not make that [the new plan] work for the 65,000-foot ShopRite, but we can’t,” Stolar said.
In an interview after the HPC hearing, which took roughly three hours, Stolar said that some had advised Pinnacle to approach Wegmans Food Markets Inc. as a tenant for Lackawanna Plaza. But Stolar said that Wegmans needs at least 85,000 square feet, even for the smaller markets that it is starting to debut.
He declined to comment on which supermarkets Pinnacle and Hampshire are in talks with now.
The HPC is reviewing the latest plans for Lackawanna Plaza, which is in a historic district and is home to a historic train station. The commission will then make recommendations on the stalled project to the Township Planning Board, and made a number of suggestions to Stolar Thursday. The HPC, led by chair Kathleen Bennett, asked him to address some of the issues it raised and to report back at its Feb. 15 meeting.
Stolar kicked off his testimony Thursday by offering an explanation of why he and Pinnacle’s partner, Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, withdrew a controversial Lackawanna redevelopment plan last year and instead submitted a site plan under existing zoning laws.
“We did … change course from the redevelopment plan, which was difficult in a number of different ways, and we decided that the best thing to do was to come in under the original zoning,” Stolar said.
The redevelopment plan for months was criticized by residents and preservationists as too dense and massive, blasted as a mixed-use project that would dwarf the train station that now houses the Pig & Prince Restaurants, block view of the eatery from the east and destroy historic elements of the station. That plan included 350 residential units and permitted a minimum 40,000-square-foot supermarket that would essentially replace the Pathmark that closed in November 2015.
The traditional development plan, filed in December to replace the redevelopment plan, addressed the complaints of critics. It is much smaller in mass and density, and eliminated a parking garage that was slated to be built over the supermarket. The new site plan only has 154 residential units and the 44,000-square-foot supermarket, along with some existing retail and office space.
The original redevelopment plan, designed to house a 65,000-square-foot market, had parking facilities above the market to accommodate shoppers, according to Stolar. Removing those upper parking facilities allowed Pinnacle and Hampshire to make their project less massive, but it also limited the size of the supermarket that will replace Pathmark and also necessitates enlarging the existing lot in front of Lackawanna Plaza to provide sufficient parking, Stolar said.
To make room for the additional surface parking, the developers want to eliminate the retail stores that now face Lackawanna Plaza’s parking lot and the interior mall area inside the vacant shopping center. The area that will be chopped off includes former train sheds and platforms, raising the concern of HPC members about at their meeting.
One member, David Greenbaum, asked Stolar about adding green space to the parking area. But the developer said there is no parking to spare and still offer enough parking for even the smaller grocery store.
“Candidly after you lose one major supermarket you get a bad reputation in the world of supermarket tenants and we wanted to be able to be sure that what we had was realistic and would work, otherwise this whole thing is destined for failure,” Stolar said.
He added that he had gotten input from Hampshire, which he said has 50 years experience in supermarket-ownership experience.
The revamped Lackawanna plan didn’t work for ShopRite, according to Stolar.
“We don’t have the parking for a larger food store,” he told the HPC. “Secondly, the larger food store — which is really only one brand that wants to be that big, 65,000 feet, which everybody knew was a ShopRite — they won’t go into the shape that is now being dictated by the request to make sure that the Pig & Prince is completely exposed to the east … The physical shape didn’t work for them.”
Supermarkets require designs with an even-shaped building footprint, a good display area and cash registers in the front of the store, according to Stolar, and “that really takes you away from any kind of articulated shape.”
Under the current site plan there will be 257 parking spaces on the western lot, where the supermarket and other retail space will be, and 230 parking spaces on the eastern lot, on the other side of Grove Street, where the residential dwelling will be located, Stolar said. That eastern parking will be for tenants and supermarket employees.
Bruce Stieve, the architect for Pinnacle and Hampshire, and Barton Ross, the planning board’s architectural consultant, both addressed the HPC. Stieve said that a number of the architectural elements of the part of Lackawanna Plaza that will be torn down, including some of its T-shaped steel stanchions, will be incorporated in the development. Some, for example, will be used in its facade, to create a bus shelter on Bloomfield Avenue, and some will be placed in the parking lot.
Those stanchions were up and down the platforms at the train station, with cast concrete on top of them, acting as shelter for passengers to stand under in inclement weather, Stolar said.
Several HPC members, including Bennett, said that the concrete that would be destroyed if the stanchions are moved is a historic element of the station, as are the stanchions themselves. The commission wants to know how many stanchions there are in the area that would be razed.
The developers are also planning to relocated a horse trough that is at the Lackawanna Plaza site, and the HPC wants that item placed in a more prominent and visible area than Pinnacle and Hampshire had planned.
Bennett described Lackawanna Plaza as “a key building, probably the most important building in Montclair.”