By Jaimie Julia Winters
Two homes on Lloyd and Undercliff roads slated for “Lloyd Estate,” a massive compound proposed for the properties, have been razed.
The home at 14 Undercliff Road was razed on Friday, Feb. 8, while the home at 172 Lloyd Road was demolished on Monday, Feb. 11.
“It seems, as feared, the owner of 14 Undercliff did a middle-of-the-night knockdown,” said planning board member Martin Schwartz.
The application for the new home was filed in October with the planning department. Along with typical living quarters such as a family room and a kitchen, the home will include a basketball court, a spa, a gym, a bowling alley, a movie theater, indoor and outdoor pools, a staff wing, a billiards room, a library, a computer lab, a nine-car motor court, two garages, seven guest rooms, three kids’ rooms, a homework room, a master suite with a kitchen and his-and-her balconies, all accessible by two elevators.
The properties, which abut Eagle Rock Reservation, were purchased by 14 Undercliff LLC in January 2018 and May 2018 respectively and will equate to 28 acres in total. The properties were purchased for a combined price of $7,463,400, with taxes at a combined $119,000.
14 Undercliff LLC was formed in July 2017 by Dennis Jenkins, a managing member of the South Orange-based Mecca Property Development, according to records filed with the state Division of Revenue and Finance.
The application did not include the square footage of the proposed home.
Although the application has not been reviewed by the Historic Preservation Committee or heard by the zoning board of adjustment, the town issued demolition permits, according to the planning department.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to hear the application on March 20, according to zoning board chairman William Harrison. To date, two variances are being sought — one for a height of 38.5 feet where 35 is allowed, and one for a rear setback of 25 feet where 141 is required, said Graham Petto, assistant township planner. The application is being handled by attorney Alan Trembulak.
It also must go to the Historic Preservation Commission for review, as the properties are located in the Estate Historic District. The application is on the Feb. 28 HPC meeting agenda.
Although the Estate Historic District is a potential historic district, any development in potential or designated districts must be reviewed by the HPC, said HPC Chair Kathleen Bennett.
The home at 14 Undercliff was built in 1865, while the home at 172 Lloyd was constructed in 1907. They were surveyed for Preservation Montclair in 1982, but were never registered on the historical register.
Tree clearing began in July, prior to the developer filing the site plan application with the planning department. The tree clearing permit was filed in October 2017 by Montclair Tree Experts. Town officials contend only three trees have been removed.
The town’s tree ordinance does not regulate how many trees can be taken down on private property, only that a permit be obtained and the trees be replaced one for one, or the town be paid $250 for each tree taken down.
The Montclair Environmental Commission does not see the applications for tree clearing permits, but at times reviews site applications, said MEC planning board liaison Keith Broderick. He said the tree arborist conducts a spotcheck of the number of razed trees after the contractor completes the job to ascertain the number that needs to be replaced.
After residents questioned what they thought was new tree clearing, and trees marked with pink ribbons for further clearing, and called town hall, a township code enforcement officer was dispatched to the properties.
An engineer, hired by the township under its steep slope ordinance, has compiled a report for the hillside properties requiring that a plan be submitted for retention of the hill, stormwater runoff, retaining walls and a permeable soil test.
The applicant will also need approval for land disturbance by the Hudson, Essex, Passaic Soil Conservation District.
Schwartz directly blamed the township planner for the loss of Montclair’s 75-year-old no-knock-down law.
“Township planner Janice Talley convinced a then-incoming and inexperienced new 2012 township council to unnecessarily kill instead of just revise our local no-knock down law then on the books, which had been protecting Montclair’s older homes, to accommodate new state legislation,” he said.
In 2012, there was a change in state law that could have made Montclair’s law unenforceable. “However, no one appealed this local law at the time. There was no reason to do it,” Schwartz said. “Regardless, we could have just made language modifications and given new notice to residents at the tax office. This would have effectively kept those preservation provisions in place. Other townships like Jersey City, have still maintained their classic home protections during that same period.”
Schwartz, who is Mayor Robert Jackson’s direct designee to the planning board, said he has been pushing a revised no-knock law for the last few years, which “could have stopped the Undercliff tear-down.” He claims the planning office has stalled it and is sitting on finishing a draft of the legislation needed for ultimate council passage.
In October, 2018, Schwartz presented the planning board with the suggestion of a “light protection zone” for properties 95 years or older, or for properties that are on a list of 1,000 from the 1982 Preservation Montclair study compiled by the Junior League.
Under his suggestion, properties in the historic zones would be flagged on property cards. Suggestions included Historic Preservation Commission oversight for demolition permits for those properties, as well as a one-year wait on demolition to exhaust all other efforts.
Talley said at the meeting, “The law would not stop demolition, only delay it.”