By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
& KELLY NICHOLAIDES
It’s final. The Lackawanna redevelopment application was memorialized on May 6, but not without some conditions — a supermarket must be provided, a mandatory restriction be placed on preserving historic features into perpetuity and that future changes to the valet parking plan would require approval.
“The board’s agreement to grant the parking variance and to permit the elimination/relocation of certain historical elements of the building are strictly contingent upon the applicants providing a supermarket,” the resolution reads.
The 36-page resolution memorializing the planning board’s February approval of the plans put forth by developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos, was edited during the meeting to clarify wording on topics such as parking, easements, testimony and future building materials. Although there were no major changes, the meeting was contentious. Board members argued over the wording on the history of testimony from residents, some of which was included in the document, as well as other details.
“Thank you all. This has been the longest year,” said Tom Trautner, the applicant’s attorney.
Trautner and his client Brian Stolar, CEO of Pinnacle, attended the nearly two-hour planning board meeting. The board voted five to zero to memorialize the agreement, with three abstentions.
The developers bought the property in 2014, and plan to build 154 housing units, a 29,000-square-foot supermarket, and 111,726 square feet of office, including a medical office, and retail space at the 7.5 acre site of the former Lackawanna train station.
Twenty percent of the housing will be set aside as affordable, according to the resolution.
The development will also bring back a much-needed supermarket to the residents of the Fourth Ward, who have been pining for a grocer since the Pathmark closed in 2015.
The developers plan to raze the mall that encases the train platforms in order to make way for parking — for which the applicant needed a variance as 844 spaces were required and under 500 were proposed.
If the supermarket is abandoned, the parking variance would cease, according to the document.
The applicant plans to implement a shared-used, valeted parking plan, which would have to be maintained even if the property is sold. Any changes to the parking plan would require planning board and department approval.
A restriction will be put in place to preserve the untouched historical features — train waiting area, horse trough, stanchions and western terminus shed — into perpetuity. Seventy four of the stanchions will be kept. The 16 stanchions not incorporated into the current plans would be required to be kept in storage or repurposed throughout the lot. The historical commission will be consulted on the historic plaque markers the developer has planned for the horse trough and the pedestrian walkthrough. The developer will ensure that the historic elements of Lackawanna will be protected with “more than standard treatments” to survive heavy equipment and vibrations during construction, according to the resolution.
The mixed-use layout for two parcels will connect east and west through cross easements under Grove Street. That easement will undergo a review.
On the 2.80-acre east parcel, a four-story residential apartment building will include a first-floor parking garage with 130 spaces. An additional 100 surface parking spaces are proposed. The TD Bank site contains 17 parking spaces and no changes are proposed there. On the 4.79-acre west parcel, the applicants will renovate the existing Pathmark, retail and office space, keep an existing Pig & Prince restaurant and its historic waiting room, and add a fast food restaurant. The majority of the historic train station will be maintained except for the train shed portion.
The west parcel will also include the supermarket, and 229 surface parking spaces.
The developers said that five supermarket companies toured the site, and two sent letters of intent. Currently, there is one viable tenant, Lidl, which has proposed a 29,000-square-foot store downsizing from the developers’ hope to lease 47,000 square feet.
The document states that during construction the developer is encouraged to discuss with Lidl the possibility of creating a pop-up store for residents of the Fourth Ward.
Planning board members Martin Schwartz and Carmel Loughman could not vote on May 6, as they voted to abstain during the vote in February. Councilwoman Robin Schlager recused herself. They were able to make edits however, and Schwartz said, after consulting with local experts he included wording about future historic preservation and during construction.
Schwartz also took issue with exterior details including metal panels on portions of the project, that he called “ugly.”
Noting the difficulty of understanding what the final plan will look like, Chairman John Wynn expressed some frustration. “My problem is on these plans we can’t get a realistic picture of what the finished product looks like. Looking at this, part of my thought process is these materials weren’t set in stone,” Wynn said.
Materials will be reviewed and approved by the revisions committee, according to the resolution.
Loughman wanted language added to the resolution that indicated that the project had many critics. “Six people spoke? That’s misleading not to include some reference to facts instead of referencing people who agreed with the plans. There’s significant opposition and that’s not reflected in the resolution,” Loughman said.
Planning Board attorney Dennis Galvin noted that public record on opposition exists in recordings and video.
“The board doesn’t base its decisions on how the public feels. It applies the law to the facts of the case,” Galvin replied.
He agreed to add language indicating that members of the public spoke both for and against the project.
Galvin said in the end, the board found that the project’s benefits outweigh detriments.
Left-hand turns on Glenridge Avenue, where the loading docks will be located, are prohibited, but not on Grove Street, according to the document. The council recently created an ordinance banning left-hand turns on Grove Street.
Historic Preservation Commission consultant Thomas Connolly testified on Dec. 17, 2018, about the historic significance of the train station. He concurred that although the existing train sheds are not historic Lincoln-Bush sheds, he opined that the property is historically significant and that reusing the stanchions is not an adaptive reuse.
“In his view, keeping the stanchions in the location they existed in is the most important aspect to maintaining their historical significance. Ultimately the board found the need to renovate the site to ensure a new supermarket use outweighed the public benefit of retaining the stanchions in their exact locations,” according to the resolution.
Although plans have been approved and are still subject to the revisions committee over details, litigation may delay any construction. A group of residents, commercial entities and preservationists may file their own lawsuit to stop the platform demolition, according to a source close to the issue.
The document states that the board project serves the public interest, the proposal outweigh the detriments and plans call to maintain the historic fabric of the site.
The parking variance was granted based on the fact that a hardship exists on the site since it contains three frontages, making it impossible to not have parking in the front.