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MC Residences

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The developer of a 46-unit housing and retail project on Orange Road could take another look at the density of the project after most planning board members said they would not approve the application as presented. As no formal vote was taken at the March 9 planning board hearing, the developer has opted to come back to the board on April 6 with an expected new plan.

Since hearings began last year, developer Brian Stolar has reduced the planned height of the MC Residences residential and retail project at 33-37 Orange Road, and will no longer rely on the neighboring Orange Road garage to fulfill its parking requirement. But now the development requires a parking variance, as it provides 79 spaces where 96 are required by code. In order to provide the 79 parking places, six would be aisle-parked, 30 would be provided by a slide-and-stack system — for which the applicant is seeking a waiver — and all would be valet-only.

Karl Pehnke, the developer’s engineer, has argued that rather than the state’s recommendation of 1.8 spaces per bedroom, several of Montclair’s redevelopment plans have minimum residential parking standards in the range of 1.0 to 1.1 spaces per unit. Based on that ratio, the parking required for the building would be 60 spaces — 51 residential plus the nine required for retail, he said.

Although the height of the building is now four stories, down from the six proposed, it will maintain the number of units. 

The density of MC Residences came under criticism last year after some board members questioned the redevelopment plan’s “contradictory language” that sets density for the area. In July of last year, the zoning board ruled in favor of the developer in allowing a density of 72 residential units per acre for under the Montclair Center Gateway redevelopment plan, allowing for 46 units to be built on the 0.644-acre lot. The planning board had argued that the plan allowed for only 18 units per acre, while the developer’s attorney argued that the inclusion of a retail component meant that 72 units per acre were allowed.

The residential portion will contain 16 studios, 12 one-bedrooms, 17 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom, while the retail space is expected to be 2,300 square feet. The retail space would exclude certain uses — such as fast food, bars or taverns, or high-end restaurants — which in turn would lower the parking need, said developers. Stolar said they have plans to create a food court, with mostly prepared food coming in from local restaurants.

But board members voiced concerns over limiting the use of the retail, which in turn had given the developer the allowance for the residential density. They also had concerns with the parking plan being dependent on a valet 24-7. 

For the second time, board member Martin Schwartz suggested that, rather than asking for a parking variance, the developer should reduce the number of units to meet the parking requirement. He said allowing for the parking deficiency would be a detriment to the public good.

Carmel Loughman called the building fundamentally flawed with its density and facade aesthetics. 

Carole Willis also questioned the density in the area with two schools, and said the goal was to add retail in an otherwise retail-lacking area, contending its use should not be limited. 

Keith Brodock was also concerned with the retail use, but said he would support the application as he didn’t think they could say no to the number of units. “It would be great to have a destination restaurant, but we can’t park it,” he said. 

Robin Schlager, the township council’s liaison to the planning board, called the design an “eyesore” and said it was “too big.” 

John Rooney said that the building itself was too dense and suggested making more of the studios one-bedrooms. 

Board chairman John Wynn said that although he is still confused about how the parking plan will work, he thinks it can because it’s mainly residential. 

“If it doesn’t, the residents will force it to work,” he said. 

Although he did have concerns with the design and restricted retail use, he said he would be inclined to approve the application. 

After taking a brief break, the applicant returned and asked for the application to be adjourned until April.

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