Lackawanna
The Lackawanna Train Station in the 1920s. Courtesy montclairhistory.org

By Jaimie Julia Winters
winters@montclairlocal.news

Tonight, the council is expected to vote on its approval of the 154-unit housing and retail Lackawanna redevelopment, which could make way for a much needed supermarket, but may not include saving the historic train platforms or sheds.

The development still has to make its way through the planning board, which has final approval, however.

Last month, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) came up with new recommendations that included saving the trains sheds or platforms that are currently housed inside the atrium-ed mall at the plaza. But residents of the area contend the Historic Preservation plans for the sheds would cause delays in the development and in the area getting the supermarket they have been without for almost four years.

The nearly vacant shopping center property at one time housed a historic train station, and then in the 1980s, a mall and Pathmark supermarket. It is now home to the Pig & Prince Restaurant, pizza place and a Popeyes franchise. Developers said the station’s current footprint could mostly be maintained to keep the historic aspects of the 1913 station, most of which remain intact. They have also hoped to attract a much-needed supermarket to the area.

In January, plans were downsized from 350 units to 154 and the supermarket from 65,000 square feet to 44,000. Talks with ShopRite to move in fell through due to the smaller footprint. The developers admitted finding a supermarket company to fit the smaller size could prove difficult.

The new plans also eliminated a parking garage that was slated to be built over the supermarket. To make room for the additional surface parking, the developers said the retail stores, which are the former train sheds and platforms encased in a glass atrium, would need razing raising concerns for Historic Preservation Commission members.

Plans called for the 81 out of 98 of the steel archways to be salvaged and placed in the parking lot as decorative architectural details.

Some residents have suggested the sheds, covered with a glass atrium in the 1980s, instead be kept intact and re-purposed as a food court-type market, an art/antique market or an amenity space with outdoor seating.

But about 30 area residents who have been without a supermarket since the closure of Pathmark attended the most recent planning board meeting, contending they need a resolution to the area’s food desert.

“The HPC’s recommendation could kill the supermarket,” said William Scott, co-chair of the township’s housing commission. “While pushing an additional millions of dollars onto this development, we could lose revitalization of the area, affordable housing and a much-needed supermarket for the area. These are ridiculous uses [for the sheds]. Not once did I hear preservation of a community. I have only heard preservation of a building.”

The resolution states the Historic Preservation Commission issued a report to the Planning Board on Feb. 15,  with 16 recommendations all of which have been addressed by the applicant.

“Recently introduced concepts, e.g. farmers market, atrium, antique market, and public gathering space, militate against the reintroduction of a full-scale supermarket, which remains a non-negotiable commitment to the residents who in fact frequented and supported Lackawanna Plaza for the past 30 years,” the resolutions reads. “The council of the Township of Montclair supports the current plan before the planning board and urges the planning board to consider it favorably and with dispatch.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said after the planning board she was concerned the current impasse over the train sheds could a derail both the project and the supermarket she has fought to procure for years.

“I think it shows a lack of respect for the community that has patiently for four years waited for a food source,” Baskerville said. “The plan was sound. Brian has done a good job presenting a good balance [between] density, preservation, housing, a supermarket and listening to the community. This could drag on with no end point. Enough is enough.”