BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael is not necessarily worried so much about the traffic, the parking problems or the density a new 74-housing unit set to break ground soon next his church will create. It’s that the wall to the five-story building will block the sun streaming through the windows of the sanctuary at Sammler-Michael’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church. The church was built in 1897, and is one of the last Craftsman-style churches still in use.
“That wall will diminish the beauty and use of that space,” Sammler-Michael said. “I wish the height would be pushed back from our sanctuary window so it gives us the earliest possible sunlight gleam.”
Bijou Properties of Hoboken has plans to build a mixed-use development on the site of the former Hahne’s department store parking lot at 59 Church St.
The maximum building height is set at five stories with a no-minimum front-yard setback and minimum of five feet for the backyard, five feet on the eastern side and five feet for the portion of the west property line.
On June 25, the mayor and council introduced a resolution and an ordinance to approve the agreement to redevelop the former parking lot into 74 units of housing and retail space. As the lot was not zoned for housing, the council had to amend the redevelopment plan to allow for housing on the site, which was approved last November.
In recent years, the 106-space lot on Church Street, which is surrounded by two churches, a pre-school and the Board of Education office, has been used as a private lot offering public parking for $10 a day.
Prior property owners Brian Stolar, Alan Litt and Steven Plofker run the current parking lot. Montclair Kensington Urban Renewal out of Virginia, who tried to build an assisted living facility there, still owns the property, according to the tax office.
Officials of neighboring Christ Church also have their concerns. Chief operating officer Ray Valez questioned where the hundreds of congregants who drive to attend Sunday mass at the church would park with the closure of the lot.
In addition to meeting parking requirements for tenants, the developer will provide 20 municipal parking spaces on-site and is expected to pay the town $175,000 to improve parking conditions at existing public lots. Residential parking requirements for the development are about one space per unit.
“The magic number of 20 replaces 106 spaces?” Valez said. “You are not addressing parking in this plan. That lot is filled on the weekends.”
Township attorney Ira Karasick said it was not up to the developer to replace the 106 parking spaces lost with the development. Mayor Robert Jackson said that 800 spaces will be added with the new planned municipal garage at Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street, along with the Seymour Street development that is scheduled for completion in the next two to three years.
Orange Road resident Stephanie Willis said the area is already congested.
“I want people to know we are going to lose parking with this project,” she said. “We have two schools, a preschool and a mega church. This will basically be seven days of traffic congestion and parking problems. The project will compound, not solve, problems.”
William Scott of the housing commission said members are concerned with the density of the project, which is currently only planned to offer 10 percent of units as affordable housing, approximately seven units. That’s not enough, Scott said, adding that he would expect a developer would want to comply with the inclusionary zoning ordinance set by the council of 20 percent last year.
“You made a commitment of 20 percent affordable with all new construction last year. Yet you are allowing for only 10 percent with this project,” he said.
Zoning for the area allows for 90 units per acre. The Hahne’s lot measures roughly three quarters of an acre, which would allow for 65 units without a variance.
The lot was once dedicated for parking at the nearby, now-closed Hahne’s department store, which closed in 1989. The store was replaced by the Siena apartments in 2007, which also was part of the Hahne’s Redevelopment Plan. The Church Street lot development will be the final part of the plan.
A public plaza, 30 feet wide and 80 feet deep, will be provided at the ground level.
The redeveloper will be required to submit a shared-parking analysis as part of the site plan application.