By Jaimie Julia Winters
More than six months of testimony by the proponents of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan rumbled to a conclusion on Monday with the issue of just what constitutes a train station dominating the Planning Board hearing.
At the heart of the testimony was whether the definition of a train station should include its waiting platforms. At Lackawanna Plaza, those platforms were enclosed by glass atriums in the 1980’s and historic preservationists want them to be spared in whatever plan for the plaza is finally agreed on. But the site’s developers, Pinnacle and Hampshire, say the platforms need to be razed to make more room for parking as part of a multi-use plan that would include 154 housing units, a supermarket, a medical center and some retail stores.
Sean Moronski, a land-use planner testifying on behalf of the developers, maintained to the planning board that inclusion of the train platforms in the part of the property set aside for historical preservation would be “inconsistent” with the township’s own master plan.
“The Montclair Railroad Station Historic District includes the current Lackawanna Plaza area between the Montclair Station House entrance and Grove Street,” said Moronski, quoting from the 2016 Historic Plan Preservation Element of the master plan. “Before the construction of the railroad line in 1856, the area was a center of mill activity. Several structures associated with the railroad were built by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including coal silos, storage facilities, and a brownstone building. In 1979, all of the remaining historic structures were demolished, with the exception of the station building.”
To Moronski, that wording leads to one conclusion: only the former train station itself, which now houses the Pig & Prince restaurant, has true historical value.
In response, Martin Schwartz, a planning board member, questioned why a previous developer — the one who put the atriums around the platforms as part of a 1980s renovation — would have spent time and money doing so if the platforms had no historical value.
Moronski suggested that the architect behind the 1980’s design simply wanted to utilize the platforms as a reminder of what once existed there and not because they had any overriding historical meaning. The developer’s attorney, Tom Trautner, suggested the 1980’s developer kept the platforms intact simply as a way to save money.
David Greenbaum, a Montclair resident and a member of the township’s Historic Preservation Commission, in response to Moronski said that if New York’s Grand Central Station is considered historic — and it is, in fact, a national landmark — then Lackawanna’s train platforms should also be treated with respect. After all, he said, the same architect, Richard Blinder, was responsible for the renovation of Grand Central Station and the 1980’s Lackawanna project.
In turn, Moronski argued that as a result of the 1980s renovation, the platforms had lost whatever historical value they had.
Opponents will testify before the planning board on Dec. 17. They are expected to address not only the train platforms, but other elements of the plan that came up for discussion during the six months of testimony as well.
The developers are seeking two parking variances for the site — an allowance of front-yard parking for 83 vehicles next to the Pig & Prince, and an allowance of 459 parking spots for the entire site, down from the required 833. Moronski said that the 833-spot requirement is based on suburban areas lacking nearby transit options. The development is near the Bay street Station.
Currently, the irregular lot next to Pig & Prince has 90 spaces configured in the front yard.
A waiver is also sought to make the parking spaces 9-by-18-feet.
CHANGES TO PLANS
The developers plan to create an “informal or casual” restaurant behind the Pig & Prince, with an entrance on the Lackawanna parking lot, was changed to have the entrance facing the supermarket parking lot.
Previous plans called for the brick work from the Pig & Prince to be extended, mimicking the former station, while keeping the current entrance. Architect Bruce Stieve, addressing concerns by the board of only 31 parking spaces being reserved for patients in the medical building and fast-food customers, said the developer changed the plans to close that entrance and create a glass entrance facing the west parking lot.
A former bellman or baggage booth located at the end of the pedestrian passage in the Lackawanna parking lot will now be included in the list of historic elements that will be saved and restored. Stieve said the booth could used as a valet stand in the future.
Historic elements of the site now include:
∙ A horse trough, which is to be restored and moved to the front of the Pig & Prince;
∙ A stair tower leading to the west parking lot from Grove Street, which will be restored;
∙ Train canopies and stanchions along the supermarket and retail space;
∙ Steel stanchions in the parking lot, which are to be incorporated into structures such as the bus stop;
∙ SIx entrance piers and large pylons on the Grove Street bridge, which are to be restored;
∙ The original station, which will be retained.
∙ The placement of plaques that give the history of the station on the horse trough and along the pedestrian walkway.
In addition, Stieve said, a survey would be commissioned, including the use of old photographs, before any preservation work was done.
The Lackawanna parking lot plans have been reconfigured to allow for 26 short-term spots, to be managed by ProPark Vice. These include two handicap and four valet spots, as well as two drop-off or valet spots in front of the door of the medical facility, said Kristen Sokich, vice president of ProPark.
There would be 17 valet spots in the back of the supermarket parking lot. During peak times, such as holidays and holiday school breaks — or roughly 10 percent of the year, according to Sokich — the valet cars would be stored in the east parking lot.
Parking for an estimated 70 to 80 employees at the site would be relegated to the east parking lot. Sokich further estimated that 50 percent of the residents in the Lackawanna proposal will leave their parking spots open during weekday hours.
Robert Munoz, the acting attorney, for the planning board, said that any parking-management system ultimately approved for the redevelopment proposal would apply regardless of who owns the property in the future.
“The variance runs with the land, not the owners,” he said. “The condition would continue to apply with the same land use.”
He said the town’s remedy to owners who don’t comply with the condition of a parking-management system could be to withhold a certificate of occupancy, fines or shut down the operation.