BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
It’s the downside to living in Montclair— the parking.
Nearly 3,000 people are waiting for parking permits, either for commuting purposes or for overnight parking outside their homes or in parking decks, according to numbers released by the parking authority.
Some applicants say they have been waiting for more than two years for a permit, while police and parking officials are attempting to regulate parking with strict parking rules throughout town, issuing up to 150 tickets per day for violations over the past three years.
The total number of people on the waitlist, 2,840, is almost triple the number of permits Montclair offers, which numbers slightly more than 1,300 parking permits spread between 24 parking lots throughout town along, and about 300 on-street permits. Montclair residents do not receive preference over non-residents for permits.
According to parking authority numbers, the most sought-after permits include the Watchung Lot, with 609 people on a waitlist for one of the 100 permit spots to open; the Walnut Street lot, with 727 waiting for 195 spots; the Upper Montclair Lot with a waitlist of 567 for 82 spots; and Bay Street Station, which has 305 on the waitlist for 159 spots.
Twelve people are on a waitlist for on-street permit spots on Prospect Avenue, while five are on a waitlist at Mission Street. Parking authority officials did not provide the length of time people had to wait for the various permits, but said at this point in time every parking deck has a waitlist for the permits that range from $50 to $130 a month, with rates going up again next year.
And the fight to get a parking spot has gotten so bad people are forging parking permits, said township parking officials.
Half of Montclair’s housing stock is rentals, many with no on-site parking, requiring access to a municipal permit parking if you want to own a car while living in Montclair. Overnight parking is banned in most streets throughout the township.
The rental housing market continues to expand, with roughly 500 more units expected to be built in the next few years along Bloomfield Avenue, including new developments near Lackawanna Plaza, Seymour Street and Church Street, and the MC Residences on Orange Road. That will be in addition to the recently completed multi-family developments in town, including 24 Elm Street, the Montclair Residences at Bay Street Station, the Montclarion at Bay Street Station, Valley & Bloom, The Vestry, and Washington Street Rentals.
Planning and zoning board officials are attempting to address parking needs for the new developments by requiring shared parking plans, in which parking capacity is optimized by allowing complementary land uses to share spaces, rather than producing separate spaces for separate uses.
HOW DO RESIDENTS REALLY FEEL?
An unscientific poll of Montclair Local readers taken in June suggests widespread dissatisfaction among residents — of 100 respondents, 88 said they were dissatisfied with the public parking system overall. Forty-six said they waited over two years for a parking permit, 17 said their permit took more than a year and 22 percent said they waited a few months.
Parking authority director Gary Obszarny conceded that residents are unhappy with the waitlist for permitted spots.
“If two more parking decks are built, I will fill them up tomorrow,” he said.
While most of town doesn’t have overnight on-street parking, some suggest that allowing parking permits on the street can alleviate some of Montclair’s parking problems.
Beth MacFarlane, an apartment manager at 31 Trinity Place, said recently a prospective tenant inquired about acquiring a parking permit for nearby parking decks and was told by the parking authority the wait was at least 11 months. The apartments rent for about $100 less than the market rate of $2,400 for a two-bedroom, but on-site parking is not available.
“As someone who is trying to rent an apartment, it’s hard to answer ‘where do I park,’” she said.
She had petitioned the council to allow for overnight street parking permits on Trinity Place, pointing to the fact the town now issues the permits for Prospect Avenue and nine other township streets. She is now looking for the same on Plymouth and The Crescent. In those 10 locations, on-street parking between the hours of 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. is allowed for those with permits. If on-street parking is not available on the designated area, permit holders can park in the nearest municipal parking lot. The permit holder can also park in those designated areas Saturday and Sunday.
ARGUMENT AGAINST OVERNIGHT PARKING
Councilman Sean Spiller said it’s hard to balance who wants overnight parking and who doesn’t.
Montclair has historically banned overnight parking to allow for street maintenance, to maintain property values and to allow access to homes by fire department and EMS.
Most residents, said Spiller, don’t want overnight parking.
“When I speak with residents, some ask for parking to be expanded, but most express concerns regarding their property value in relation to houses with less parking. They note that they paid a premium during purchase because of the parking they have. Allowing street parking would devalue that. Some cite that they feel it is a safer situation to have all cars in driveways or garages instead of lining the streets. Many actually just note that they want less ‘clutter’ on the street at night,” he said.
LOSS OF PARKING
Residents in the area of the Seymour Street redevelopment lost more than 150 public parking spaces since the closure of the South Willow and South Fullerton parking lots last summer to make way for construction. Now they contend they are dealing with illegal parking up and down their streets.
A similar loss of parking spots is set to take place on Church Street, where the township is set to approve of a 74-unit housing development on the site of the former Hahne’s parking lot, which will remove an additional 106 parking spots. The developer will have to provide 20 municipal spots, according to an agreement with the township.
“The magic number of 20 replaces 106 spaces?” asked Ray Valez, CFO of the neighboring Christ Church.
Officials contend, however, that the 200-unit Seymour Street mixed-use development, which resulted in the loss of 150 spaces at Willow and Fullerton, will create much-needed parking relief for residents. The project includes a five-story, 315-space municipal parking garage at the intersection of Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street.
The 567-space Orange Road Garage will also offer some parking relief, township officials said, though first priority will go to guests of the nearby 159-room MC Hotel, as well as the soon-to-be-built MC Residences. But MC Hotel and MC Residences developer Brian Stolar said there is currently a “substantial amount of empty space” in the garage, which is now open to the general public.
INCREASE IN PARKING VIOLATIONS
To mitigate parking violations that increased since Seymour construction began, and the closure of lots, the council created a “red zone” which doubles the fines — $30 to $60, and up to a maximum of $500 — in that area.
Since the start of 2017, Montclair Police have issued more than 36,000 parking tickets, while the parking authority has issued over 120,000 — an average of more than 150 tickets per day combined.
But that number has risen sharply each year: after issuing 46,309 tickets in 2017, the combined MPD and parking authority tickets totaled 67,139 in 2018. And in just the first nine months of 2019, parking violations have reaching 43,052 as of Sept. 30, according to numbers released by the township.
The highest number of tickets issued were for parking meter violations, followed by violations of day-permit parking and prohibited parking violations.
Fifty-one of the Montclair Local survey respondents said they spend at least 10 minutes finding parking places when in downtown Montclair.
Jason Gleason, interim executive director of the Montclair Center BID, said that the lack of parking goes beyond the customers. Employees have a hard time finding parking as well, he said.
“The new garages should help alleviate some of the problems,” he said, though he concedes that the loss of lots such as Willow, Fullerton and Church also have an effect.
The BID, along with the council and the parking authority, is working on a shared-parking solution with not-for-profits such as the Salvation Army and the Board of Education, as well as other businesses that might have extra spots in their lots.
Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, who is on the committee, has suggested that the owners of some parking lots that are mainly empty during the week, such as those along Elm Street and the Salvation Army building, be approached.
“It just seemed like a logical fit to fill the void while a permanent solution was looked into,” she said.
Councilwoman and planning board member Robin Schlager said the new owners/developers of the Warner Building on Lorraine Avenue declined an offer to share some of its spaces on weekends and evenings when approached at a planning board meeting by its members.
For restaurant owners, the town created valet parking regulations this summer so that diners don’t have to drive around looking for a spot.
“We can’t create more parking, we can’t build parking lots. We can only advocate for positive solutions,” said Gleason.
He said the committee is looking at solutions made in the 2016 parking report.
SUGGESTIONS DATING BACK TO 2016
A 2016 parking study commissioned by the township calculated the minimum parking requirements at nearly 3,500 new spaces in Montclair Center, and 179 spaces for the Upper Montclair projects.
The calculations were based on planned redevelopment from 2016 through 2020, and included 834 additional housing units, 80 units of senior housing, medical and professional offices, supermarkets, retails and restaurants, arts venues and hotel.
Using a shared-parking methodology, those numbers would be 2,542 in Montclair Center and 108 in the Upper Montclair business district. It was suggested that there would be an excess of parking, taking up space and increasing development cost, if the required number was met.
Suggestions included on-street overnight parking permits, employee parking permits restricted to blocks that are currently underutilized during weekdays, valet-parking plans within new developments, shared parking agreements for business lots that are underutilized during the day and empty at night, the creation of a bus pass plan for employees and the creation of more pedestrian and bike accessibility.
- Upper Montclair Lot 567
- Walnut St Lot 727
- Fullerton Deck 202
- Fullerton Top Deck 31
- Watchung Lot 609
- Farfield Lot 16
- Grove Street Lot 37
- Mountain Ave Lot 218
- Montclair Heights Lot 44
- The Crescent 67
- Bay Street 305
- On-Street Prospect 12
- On Street Mission Street 5
*PROVIDED BY THE PARKING AUTHORITY