By Jaimie Julia Winters
Whether the Lackawanna train platforms are part of the national and New Jersey historical designation for the property is a point of contention with the developer who wants to raze them to make way for parking.
But the train platform’s historic significance is moot when it comes down to saving them from the wrecking ball, according to New Jersey Historic Preservation officials.
Testimony continued on Dec. 17 for the historic Lackawanna railroad station property redevelopment, which calls for a multi-use development including 154 units of housing with a rooftop pool and garden, a supermarket, medical office and some retail. The ticket area and waiting station, now the Pig & Prince restaurant, would be kept intact.
The developers, Pinnacle and Hampshire companies, contend the train platforms, part of glass-enclosed mall since the 1980s, need to be razed to make way for more parking in front of the supermarket to be housed in the former Pathmark. Historic preservationists however, seek to incorporate the train platforms, which are in front of the Pathmark, into the plans as the supermarket.
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The most recent proposal includes a 47,786-square-foot supermarket flanked by a set of covered train platforms, incorporating them into a glass-facade entrance. Plans were presented to keep 74 of the 98 train platform columns or stanchions in place at the front of the retail portion and supermarket as covered atriums. Others would be kept in place throughout the parking lot as decorative fixtures, minus the roofs. Eight would be relocated for use in a covered bus stop and at the entrance of the Grove Street tunnel.
A 1972 national registry application seeking historical designation for the property and approved in 1973, cites the platforms as part of the historical elements of the train station. The property and buildings are listed on both the New Jersey and national historical registry, and as a historical district.
Whether the station and the site is on the historic registry is moot, New Jersey Historic Preservation spokesperson Larry Hajna told Montclair Local. If it’s privately owned and no public funds are being used for the redevelopment, the owner can do what he wants, said Hajna. Because it is in a historical district, local boards might carry more weight in the final outcome of the platforms, he added.
The adaptive repurposing in the 1980s would not negate its historical significance, he said.
Thomas B. Connolly, principal architect for Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects, testified against razing the platforms and mall, and in opposition to the developer’s historic expert who contends the platforms lost their historical significance when they were repurposed in the 1980s.
He said Steven Bedford’s approach to historical preservation was “outdated” by not embracing the evolution of the platforms. The landmark should be looked at in its entirety as a special role in transportation, he said.
“In the 1980s, by retaining the butterfly sheds, they kept the rhythm and scale of the sheds,” he said. “Removing them for light fixtures is not an appropriate preservation… the goal should be to retain it in its historical location.”
He pointed to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for treatment of a historic property guidelines that state:
- A property will be used as it was historically, or be given a new use that maximizes the
retention of distinctive materials, features, spaces and spatial relationships.
- The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved.
- Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place and use.
- Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be
retained and preserved.
Historic Preservation Commission members David Greenbaum and architect John Reimnitz testified as private citizens, presenting their vision of incorporating the platforms/mall into a supermarket and razing the old Pathmark, which developers want to refurbish as the new grocery store.
The redevelopment of the train sheds in 1984 by Montclair resident, planning board member and architect Richard Blinder “was a brilliant vision by a brilliant architect,” Greenbaum said.
Greenbaum and Reimnitz pointed to other successful repurposed markets such as the Reading Terminal in Pennsylvania, West Side Market in Cleveland, the Central Market in Lancaster and the Grand Central Market in New York City.
Specifically, their plan calls for repurposing the mall into a 56,000-square foot supermarket with dual entrances on Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues. With the demolition of the former Pathmark, parking would be placed on both sides, keeping the current lot of 234 feet on Bloomfield Avenue. A dine-in area would be to the left of the Bloomfield entrance. Loading docks would be on the Glenridge side to the right of the mall.
Chairman John Wynn questioned the cost and the logistics of retrofitting a glass enclosed mall into a supermarket.
“Are they real or pie-in-the-sky hopes?’ he asked.
Developer Brian Stolar, who contends two tenants are interested in the former Pathmark space, said that prospective tenants have made it clear that no supermarket could work within the mall space. He added that markets such as Reading have been granted public subsidies.
Some residents told the board they were concerned that changing plans from retrofitting the Pathmark could result in the area having to wait longer for the much-needed supermarket.
“It’s too specific,” resident Justin Waldrin told the board.
“It’s been a food desert for while. Once you tear down the trains sheds they are gone,” Reimnitz said.
“Space is space,” Greenbaum said after the meeting. “There’s no detriment that can be proven by a tenant because we don’t have a tenant.”
According to the developers, the name of the prospective tenants have not been released due to pending negotiations.
In September, the historic commission voted to amend its recommendations on the project to include Greenbaum and Reimnitz’s plan as a viable alternative to razing the sheds.