BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A lawsuit filed by a group of residents against the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza will only delay the opening of a supermarket in the Fourth Ward, according to a statement issued today, July 18, by Hampshire & Pinnacle Companies.
A group of Montclairites filed the lawsuit against the Montclair Planning Board and the township on June 21 in Essex County Superior Court.
As of July 18, 160 residents have signed onto the suit filed by A Better Lackawanna, LLC, an entity consisting of Montclair taxpayers and historic preservationists; and Greenwood LLC, a medical office at neighboring 1 Greenwood Ave.
In May, the planning board approved plans by developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. to build 154 housing units, a 29,000-square-foot supermarket and 111,726 square feet of office retail space at the 7.5-acre site of the former Lackawanna Train Station.
Brian Stolar, president of The Pinnacle Companies, said the suit will cost Montclair taxpayers in excess legal fees, lost taxes on the project every day it is delayed, as well as jobs and affordable housing for Montclair residents.
“And yet again, Fourth Ward residents will have to wait even longer to have affordable groceries in their area. The small faction of residents suing is controlling the fate of tax revenue for 40,000 Montclair residents and thousands in the Fourth Ward who have told us repeatedly that they need a grocery store at that site,” said Stolar.
The suit, filed by attorney Jay Rice, alleges the planning board’s approval failed to consider — and is in violation of — the master plan, historic preservation ordinances, and parking ordinances of the Township of Montclair.
The developers sought relief for the proposed 459 parking spots for the entire site, far less than the required 833. In order to make way for the parking, the plan also includes razing the mall, that since the 1980s, has encased the original train waiting platforms. Historians attempted to persuade the developers to save all of the historic elements of the 1913 station, including the platforms. They suggested the sheds be repurposed for the grocer and that the former Pathmark building be razed instead.
The suit also states that planning board members limited the time for public comment on the application by setting arbitrary time limits and imposing an arbitrary ban on those who were permitted to speak.
In the statement, Robert T. Schmitt, principal of The Hampshire Companies, said the town held over a year of public hearings with extensive public input.
“The opponents claim they were marginalized during this process… The planning board took a methodical and careful approach to balance the objectives of the neighborhood, development and community at large, and asked us to make numerous changes to this site plan, including cutting the residential portion by nearly 40 percent,” said Schmitt.
The suit notes however, that at the Feb. 11 hearing, the night of the final vote, the site plan for the supermarket was verbally changed from 47,000 square feet to 29,000 square feet, and no testimony or questioning was permitted by the public. That night the developers also announced that Lidl would be leasing the space.
“It is entirely fitting that Lackawanna Station has become the battleground for the soul of Montclair’s future. It is the most iconic site in town and the reason Montclair grew to be the diverse, vibrant community it is. What happens next will tell the story of Montclair’s citizen involvement in 2019,” said Priscilla Eshelman, who is leading the grassroots fight.
Residents have until this afternoon to join the suit.