By Jaimie Julia Winters
A redevelopment plan for a Church Street parking lot, in the works since 2003 and marred by controversy and court battles, is resurfacing.
The council is expected to amend the Hahne’s Redevelopment Plan on Nov. 27 to allow for housing on the former Hahne’s parking lot site at 59 Church St., across from the Siena condominiums.
As part of the plan, a 74-unit housing development is now proposed for the lot, which had previously been used as a parking lot for the nearby Hahne’s Department Store. That store closed in 1989, and was replaced by the Siena in 2007.
The site, currently a privately-run parking lot, is not zoned for housing.
Township regulations would allow for 65 units in the 151-by-240 foot, three-quarter-acre lot. Negotiations between the town and the developer upped the unit total to 74 in exchange for about $300,000 for a community space, Montclair Center BID allocation and police vehicles, according to Deputy Mayor Sean Spiller.
Many ideas have been have been floated for the property since 2003, including a hotel and an assisted living facility. And it’s been the subject of at least two court cases.
For about two decades, Montclair had an agreement with then-owner Herod Church Street Holding — a consortium owned by developers Brian Stolar, Alan Litt and Steven Plofker — to run the parking facility for public parking use. But in 2009, the holding company took the lot back to run it privately.
Montclair sued, but ultimately lost the battle, according to court records. For the sake of competition, the developers agreed not to charge less than the Crescent municipal lot down the street.
In 2012, Herod Church Street Holding sold the property for $2.8 million to Montclair Kensington Urban Renewal out of Virginia, according to tax records. Kensington had planned to build an 88-bed, six-story assisted living facility on the lot. The council approved an ordinance allowing the facility the use of that lot, which was zoned for mixed-use or hotel development.
In turn, developer Richard Grabowsky, who owns commercial properties in the area, then sued the town, the planning board and the developers, contending an assisted-living facility didn’t conform with the site’s “in need of redevelopment” designation. He also alleged conflicts of interest by then-Mayor Jerry Fried and then-Councilman Nick Lewis, who voted to approve the ordinance but were also members of a neighboring church. In 2016, a Superior Court ruled the council’s ordinance expanding the use was invalid, according to court records.
According to tax records, Kensington still owns the property.
Affordable housing at 10 percent
Development plans for the Hahne’s parking lot date back prior to Montclair’s requirement for developers to set aside 20 percent of units as affordable housing. Thus, only 10 percent will be reserved for affordable housing. Housing Commission co-chair William Scott said that the town negotiated a significant increase in density for the property and voiced objection to only 10 percent being affordable.
“If you are putting a density bonus on the table, that’s a pretty big bonus for the developer,” he said.
“Ten percent of 74 is more than 10 percent of 55,” said township attorney Ira Katz, adding that the 10 percent was grandfathered in for the development 15 years in the making.
The square footage of the building will remain the same as the original plans, but will have more units. Once the council approves this amendment, it goes to the planning board.
Town planner Janice Talley said the planning department has not received the plans. The developer has not been named.