By Tina Pappas
for Montclair Local
Park Street neighbors have started a petition demanding the town not give its approval of a proposed 11-unit apartment building.
On Monday, June 25, about 25 area residents met at a home bordering the project. On June 11, the planning board postponed the approval of three variances for parking, loading and set backs sought by Developers Brian Mazzei and Michael Nirchio.
Plans call for a three-story housing and retail development in Watchung Plaza.
The applicant seeks three variances:
• Permit 27 off-street parking spaces, where the existing requirement is 33.
• Permit for no on-site loading spaces, where the existing requirement is one loading space for the property.
• Permit the new building to be set back four feet from a side property line, where the existing requirement is six feet.
The residents who attended the Monday night meeting at Gerard Fierst’s home, which is adjacent to site, raised concerns about density and increased traffic problems. Residents contend congestion would increase as a result of both the retail and the apartments and the driveway would allow limited visibility to the street.
At the last planning board meeting, traffic engineer Elizabeth Dolan presented testimony on studies recently conducted for peak, weekday traffic area times that concluded the development would not increase existing traffic due to trips generated by tenants and the first-floor retail business. Dolan did predict some backup traffic patterns that will continue to occur on the street when entering the driveway and a residential neighboring driveway.
At the time, board member Carmel Loughman expressed concerns with motorists pulling out of the driveways and their need to view pedestrians. She suggested putting up mirrors. Dolan agreed and said that the neighboring property to the south, which has a zero foot setback, is also a legitimate concern.
Claire Ciliotta, area resident and organizer of “A Safe Watchung Plaza,” said the group wanted to mobilize in order to prepare comment for the upcoming meeting set for July 9.
Ciliotta called the traffic study insufficient and pointed to the lack of an on-site loading dock/zone causing commercial vehicles to pull up in front of the building, which is also a bus stop. There is insufficient off-street parking as well, Ciliotta said adding the reduction of 33 spaces to 27 was unacceptable and short-sighted.
One resident said vehicles often park in the middle of driveways.
Most were concerned with the driveway.
“How do we use our collective wisdom? What they’re proposing doesn’t take care of the egress and it’s a safety hazard. It’s so dangerous exiting and it’s not caring about the children in this area,” Ciliotta said.
Resident Becky Koch encouraged the residents to attend the July 9 meeting stating there’s power in numbers.
Ciliotta also questioned whether aestetic plan updates included historic commission recommendations due to its location in the Watchung Historical District. In March, the commission had recommended that the third floor scale be smaller than the first and second and have a step-back of sorts, white cap stones on the parapet, a consistent window mullion pattern and revisions to the front canopy plans to name a few.
At the meeting, site architect Paul Sionas presented several revisions for the building’s site plan as a result of comments and issues expressed at the prior board meeting. Those revisions included adding cast stone and brickwork at the residential entrance with light fixtures on either side. Windows would be adorned with cast stone lintels and cast stone sills. Brick will also replace the stucco finish on the south wall of the trash enclosure, bike room, tenant storage room and lower section of the rear stairway.
One area property owner, who asked not to be identified, said he felt Mazzei cares about the neighborhood. He also said he believes the town will approve the development if it meets the parking requirement.
“I know him [Mazzei] and this is a developer who is not going to sell this building and plans to pass it down to his kids,” he said. “What’s important to keep in mind is that if there’s something you don’t like about it, you can leverage this.”
Diana Moore, said she has requested Park accident reports going back several years.