Lackawanna
Lackawanna Plaza is virtually empty now, in the wake of Pathmark closing in 2015. Developers want to raze the atrium to make way for parking for a new supermarket, while historic preservationists want to save the atrium contending it contains historic train platforms. FILE PHOTO

By Jaimie Julia Winters
winters@montclairlocal.news

Two experts – a historian and a supermarket analyst – are expected to present testimony on the Lackawanna Redevelopment plan at the planning board meeting tonight, July 23.

The project, proposed over four years ago, would transform the historic Lackawanna railroad station property into a multi-use development with 154 units of housing and a roof-top pool and garden, and could include a supermarket. Most of the historic buildings would be re-purposed into the design, but developers contend the train sheds, now part of glass-enclosed mall, need to be razed to make way for more parking for a supermarket.

Historic preservationists are seeking a better plan for the historic property in order to save the train sheds and incorporate them into the plans. Residents of the Fourth Ward who have been without a supermarket since November 2015 when the Pathmark at Lackawanna closed its doors, contend the project and a new supermarket has been delayed too long.

Dr. Steven Bedford is expected to give testimony on behalf of the applicant claiming the train platforms do not meet historical criteria to be saved from demolition. Bedford has a Ph.D. in Architectural History from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and a professional degree in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute.

“The train platforms have lost their integrity and the resulting conclusion is that demolition of the interior mall is not inconsistent with historic preservation principals or requirements. And, based upon: (1) the aforementioned losses of integrity; and (2) the fact that the platform canopies were common (as opposed to being rare or unique “Lincoln Bush Train Sheds”), I disagree with the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation that the proposed demolition of the interior mall is inconsistent with Section 347-137(D) of the Montclair Code,” Bedford wrote in his report.

The planning board architectural consultant is expected to bring Bradley Knab of Mehmert Store Services to testify on his success in re-purposing various buildings into supermarkets.

“Re-think the wheel and consider a store within the train-shed structure. It is feasible to
conceive a layout much like in the Reading, PA foundry/ textile building; or the adaptive reuse of the lumberyard building in Jackson, WY. With a structural grid of almost 20’ x 40’ a creative design with proper flow and use of the space could easily celebrate the enormity of the structure so patrons could envision a train being inside under roof. Without experiencing the building from side to side and end to end, the story is lost. This idea would considerably affect the site plan with regard to parking. It would require a thoughtful design to maximize parking quantity and adjacency to the anchor grocery tenant,” Knab wrote in his report. “Another viable idea is to draw an obvious similarity between its former use as a covered parking garage for trains to a modern use as a parking garage for cars.”

Planning board architectural consultant Barton Ross, who recommends re-purposing the train sheds along with the rest of the historical structures of the 1913 train station, has compiled a 68-page report.

Ross gives three options for re-purposing the sheds:

• Option one calls for parking in the train sheds with the freestanding steel columns, or stanchions, to remain in place with their reinforced concrete roofs and act as a protective weather-barrier for parked cars, “a historical monument to the train station, and as an architectural focal point to aesthetically break up the increased mass of asphalt parking.”

• Option two “came out of the HPC hearings,” Ross said, and calls for the train sheds to be adaptively reused as the new grocery store with skylights and a local “vendor market” feel. The former Pathmark masonry building built in the mid-1980s should be demolished and replaced with added parking, loading and support areas.

• Option three is a combination of the two ideas, including a 65,000-square foot supermarket with the historic train sheds becoming an attractive entrance and architectural focus of the new store.

Residents have started a petition to save the train sheds on PlanetCivic.org.

The council, contending the project needs to move along and that Fourth Ward is in need of a supermarket “sooner than later,” passed a resolution in May giving its support of the project.