By Jaimie Julia Winters
A proposal to limit building heights along Bloomfield Avenue to four stories is no longer in the works, as Township Planner Janice Talley presented a new plan which will allow the downtown area to remain a six-story limit zone.
Among the other changes presented by Talley at the July 9 Township Council meeting are an expansion of three-story limit zones in the areas of Park Street, Portland Place and Midland Avenue; as well as around the Hinck Building at Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue; and the Lackawanna Plaza area of Glenridge and Glenwood avenues.
Six-story buildings have been permitted under township zoning laws since 1919. In June, a plan approved by the planning board and presented to the council recommended the four-story zoning limit, but was met with concern by some on the council over possible litigation by developers who could lose up to a third of their build-out potential with the loss of two floors.
Township attorney Ira Karasick said there’s “always a potential for lawsuits if a property owner loses the ability to build more units” and therefore a result could be a loss in revenue. He said the town had a right to regulate zoning and that lower building heights did not necessarily mean an economic loss to developers.
Six-story development in the works
Mayor Robert Jackson said with the 55-unit-per-acre limitation and on-site parking regulation of the required .8 to 1.9 spaces per a unit, six-story development would be almost impossible.
Two recently approved developments on Bloomfield and North Willow and another on Seymour Street will go to six and seven stories, however.
In August 2017, Montclair developer Steven Plofker won approval to transform the site of the former Diva Lounge into a combination retail and multi-family development, adding a six-story building at the rear of the property for apartments. The project at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street will incorporate the 1920s historical Diva Lounge building and will include 11 units.
At the time, the planning board voted 7-0 to approve the project; however, in granting the approval, several board members warned that this should mark the end of high-rise construction on or near Bloomfield Avenue.
“I think we’re reaching the limits of the tall buildings in our downtown area,” board chair John Wynn said in August. Board member Martin Schwartz also raised objections to the height of the additional building at the site, but noted that it was recently permitted by the township.
In September of last year, the planning board approved the Seymour Street project, which will rise to seven stories. The overall project will have two buildings, with one of them six stories tall with 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces, 10,000 square feet dedicated to the arts and entertainment and roughly 30,000 square feet of retail space that will face Bloomfield Avenue and Seymour Street. The second building, seven stories tall, has two stories of office space and five floors of public parking. It will also include a 14,000-square-foot public pedestrian plaza, a venue for arts and entertainment, that will be built directly in front of the Wellmont on Seymour Street.
Other extant developments of six stories or more include the Montclairion at 125 Bloomfield Avenue, the MC Hotel on the corner of Bloomfield and Orange Road, the Siena condos on Union Street, the Siena apartments on South Park Street, and the Valley and Bloom development.
Why the change?
Schwartz told Montclair Local the board, which approved the four-story change, was not aware of the planner’s recent modifications reverting back to the six-story limit.
“We were not told [Talley] was going to modify the planning board’s recommendations of a four-story limit because the council was concerned over potential litigation,” he said. “As the township attorney said, the council is fully within their purview to modify zoning. Legislating by fear of litigation here may not be the best approach to take in order to accomplish the public good,” he said.
Talley told the Local that reverting to the six-story zoning was in response to the comments made by the council in June.
“[Six-story modification] was not approved by the planning board, but the planning board was made aware of council’s comments,” she said. “Other changes speak to changing the zoning in these areas from the current zoning, which has a maximum height of six-stories, to the C-3 zone, which has a maximum height of three-stories. The council awaits more information on this.”
After finding Talley’s presentation incomplete and her zoning map confusing, the council asked Talley to resubmit the modifications at the next council meeting.