By Jaimie Julia Winters
The Montclair Art Museum is seeking variances to upgrade its grounds with a new outdoor plaza and water wall, a reflecting pond in the circle drive, and pathways throughout the property.
Twenty-two mature trees are expected to be lost to the project, according to the application. Some could be relocated.
Architect Paul Sionas told the Development Review Committee on April 11 that as many as 27 trees could be affected — eight of which are dying according to the township arborist, nine of which would be relocated, and 10 which would be removed outright.
The museum grounds were developed as an arboretum by Howard Van Vleck, horticulturist and honorary trustee. The property contains about 50 varieties of trees and 20 shrubs, which are labeled. The museum publishes a booklet with a walking tour of the grounds, The Montclair Art Museum Arboretum, according to the museum’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Plans call for the plaza to serve as an outdoor gathering space and a space for museum events. Located along the south side of the building, the project will require significant grading to create a level space. Artwork will be included on the perimeter, and the plaza will feature tables and chairs.
The space will be bordered by retaining walls ranging in height from two feet to 10 feet, with a three-foot, eight-inch steel fence located on top of the taller walls. The tallest retaining wall, planned for the western end of the plaza, will include a 48-foot wide, 10-foot high waterfall. When the water is turned off, the wall can be used as a movie screen for outdoor summer film screenings.
The retaining wall along the northern end of the plaza will be terraced and landscaped.
Art will be integrated into the plaza, and landscaping will include a variety of plantings and lighting with a combination of step lights, wall lights and bollard lights, according to plans.
A new reflecting pond is planned for the grassy area in front of the building on South Mountain Avenue. The pond will also include a sculpture in the middle. A tree will be removed there, as will the current sculpture.
The driveway connecting the parking lot to the turn-around area will be widened by four feet. The handicapped parking spaces along the driveway will also be reconfigured.
A new curving pathway, comprised of concrete pavers and landscaping, is proposed between the museum and the sidewalk on Bloomfield Avenue.
Since the property is also identified as a potential historic site in the Montclair Township Historic Preservation Plan, the Historic Preservation Commission will review the plans at its May 30 meeting.
The museum is a conditional use in a one-family zone.
The planning board will decide on requests for changes to the retaining wall height of above 13 feet in some places, where seven is the limit. Township code also then suggests that the retaining wall be set back from the top of the retaining wall by one foot for every foot of height above seven feet.
The Development Review Committee reviewed the plans on April 11 and suggested that the wall also contain an appropriate guard rail to protect people from falling over the edge.
“The applicant should address how the proposed plan comports with the landscape plan for the property prepared by Howard Van Vleck,” according to the memo.