COURTESY JACK DORNER
Trucks going to the Seymour construction site line Roosevelt place. Neighbors are complaining of blocked access, loss of parking and idling trucks.

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

For residents living in the wake of Montclair’s ongoing development boom, their days are filled with incessant noise, blocked access to homes and driveways, and the smell of idling diesel trucks that also take up precious parking spots, and trash-strewn streets.

For Esther Freeman, who lives across from the newly opened MC Hotel and the newly constructed Orange Road garage, the construction meant her street was closed for almost a year as cranes took up residence and took away coveted parking spots, while construction workers threw trash everywhere, she said.

“I am still cleaning up from the MC Hotel,” she told planning board members at a Sept. 9 hearing for the MC Residences, a 46-unit housing development planned for the lot between the hotel and the garage. “There are no tax breaks for us, we just lose serenity. I feel like I am working yet not getting paid.”

Jack Dorner, who lives down the street from the Seymour Street construction in a condominium at 5 Roosevelt Place, said driveways and streets have been blocked by sometimes up to seven idling concrete trucks waiting to enter the construction site on weekdays, and some of his weekend mornings have been ruined after waking up to the smell of diesel fumes and the sound of engines as trucks queued up to remove debris from the site. 

The Seymour Street construction area.

“It may start at the curb, but it doesn’t end at the door. It’s more than just the noise,” he said last week in his condo over the sounds of nail guns and the beeping of trucks backing down the street. “Those of us who live in this neighborhood are enduring a lot of disruption. After a point you just are fed up with all of the dirt, noise and trucks.”

Dorner added that, at other times, residents are blocked from leaving the underground garage by tractor trailers parked illegally. And at one point, the cement leaked onto the roadway, he asserts. The conditions the development is causing for the residents is the subject of the condominium’s associations meetings month after month, he said. 

Developers Pinnacle Cos. and Brookfield Properties are developing the Seymour Street development down the street from Dorner’s condominium. It will consist of two buildings. One will face Bloomfield Avenue and Seymour Street, containing 10,000 square feet dedicated to arts and entertainment and 30,000 square feet of retail space, while hosting 200 residential units and 232 parking spaces. The second will feature two stories of office space and five floors of parking, to go with a 14,000-square-foot public pedestrian mall located directly in front of the Wellmont Theater; street parking there will be eliminated permanently.

Since construction broke ground on the Seymour Street redevelopment site last December, Dorner began photographing and journaling the inconveniences he and his neighbors have been experiencing. This summer, he began bombarding Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller with those photos and journal excerpts on the behalf of the condo association, requesting that something be done to get the construction equipment off the quiet residential streets that intersect with Seymour Street.

A sample of the correspondences Dorner sent, which he shared with Montclair Local, complains of the construction site spilling onto neighboring streets:

“3 Cement trucks idling on Roosevelt Place. Two of the trucks are flanking the driveway our owners need to use to get in and out of our garage.”

“Residue cement on Roosevelt Place between Seymour and Willow left by one of your cement trucks.”

“7 Dump Trucks Idling the full length of Seymour Street. Not evident in this picture, but one of the dump trucks is actually blocking the driveway I and others need to use to enter and exit our garage.”

The trucks, which were supposed to be using Lackawanna Plaza — two blocks east and on the opposite side of Bloomfield Avenue — as a staging and waiting site, were instead using the side streets nearer to Seymour Street until they were called to unload, pour cement or collect debris at the site.

A tractor trailer attempts to get down Seymour Street.

After each email, Dorner would receive a response from Spiller that his emails were being forwarded to township manager Timothy Stafford. 

Finally at the end of the Sept. 24 council meeting, Dennis Giuliano, vice president of Ironstate Development Company, the company managing the development, apologized for the inconvenience and agreed that the streets surrounding the construction were not the proper place for staging. 

He said they have come up with a simple, yet “easy-to-implement, understand and enforce” plan.

  1. At any given time, there will only be two trucks within the confines of the site, one in operation and a second one in queue. Two workers with two-way radios will make sure no truck is sent to site until they have space. 
  2. Truck drivers when dispatched will only be given the address of Lackawanna Plaza, which will serve as a holding site. Supervision will be present at Lackawanna, with direct communication to the on-site team giving them approval to release the next truck. 
  3. Periodic patrolling of Seymour Street and Roosevelt Place will be conducted by the on-site team during truck operation days to redirect any errant trucks to Lackawanna Plaza. 

That day, Sept. 24, 21 trucks traveled to the construction site, Dorner said, but none were queued or idling. A policeman was on duty at the corner of Seymour and Roosevelt.

But the new system seems to be a work in progress — Tuesday morning, Oct. 1, Dorner photographed a large tractor-trailer rig attempting to back down Seymour Street from Roosevelt.

“At one point we had a short yellow school bus, your cement truck, your very large tractor trailer and a neighborhood vehicle all converging on Seymour and Roosevelt, all of which could have been avoided had your two trucks been marshaled at Lackawanna Plaza waiting to be called. It seems that the site supervisor isn’t placing the person needed at Seymour and Roosevelt to control the flow,” he wrote to town and Ironstate officials.

It could be a long haul for the neighborhood, as the Seymour street project isn’t set to be complete until fall of 2020.

Pinnacle and Hampshire are also developing the Lackawanna Plaza site, in addition to the MC Hotel. Pinnacle, along with LCOR, built the neighboring Valley and Bloom mixed-use project and the Orange Road garage. And Pinnacle has presented the plans to build the 46-unit MC Residences in between the hotel and parking garage that Freeman is concerned about.

The MC Residences proposal, still before the planning board, calls for 46 apartments, with retail on the first floor, a rooftop garden, a pedestrian plaza and a 67-space garage for the former Ferrara’s Auto Body property, a site that totals 0.644 acres. 

During the construction of the MC Hotel, Orange Road was blocked from traffic.

Township planner Janice Talley told Freeman at the meeting that when the MC Residences is under construction streets should not have to be blocked off. The MC Hotel had a small setback of 12 feet to curb, while the apartment building will have 25-foot setback. 

Architect Stuart Johnson said that the developer could provide scaffolding and screening to keep construction debris at bay. He couldn’t guarantee that a crane wouldn’t be used at some point. 

Planning board chairman John Wynn suggested that any quality of life disruption related to the project be reported to police and the township. 

And here we go again,” Freeman said.