BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Since hearings began last year, the developer of the new 46-unit housing and retail project on the former Ferrara’s Auto Body property has reduced its height and will no longer rely on the neighboring Orange Road garage to fulfill its parking requirement. The developer has also reduced the density from 46 to 40 units, after planning board members said in March that they would not vote for the project at its previous density.
Now developer Brian Stolar has again agreed to make changes, after board members voiced concerns over the four affordable housing units in the project, which they said are not “comparable” in size to the market rate units as required by code.
At the Aug. 10 planning board meeting, Planner Janice Talley and Chairman John Wynn questioned why the units were substantially smaller in size compared to the market-rate units and why the two and three bedrooms only had one bathroom when the market units had two.
“Our ordinance says they are to be comparable. The affordable units are much smaller than the market rate. How can they be comparable? They should at least be middle of the range,” Talley said.
The developer said that the market rate apartments would also range in size.
Without the use of the parking garage, the development requires a parking variance. The developer had proposed 79 spaces, where 96 are required by code, for the 46 units.
Karl Pehnke, the developer’s engineer, has argued that rather than use the state’s recommendation of 1.8 spaces per unit, that the board should approve their plan for 1.0 to 1.1 spaces per unit, which several of Montclair’s redevelopment plans have allowed. Based on that ratio, the parking required for the building would be 60 spaces — 51 residential plus the nine required for retail, he said.
But at the last meeting most members still called the development on the 0.644-acre lot “too dense,” pointing to neighboring schools and the nearby Board of Education offices.
Former 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.
DENSITY AT ISSUE
For years, the site’s density has been an issue, as officials and the developer have argued over the density and the town’s redevelopment plan that sets that density.
The planning board claimed that wording in the redevelopment plan permits only 18 units per acre, while the applicant’s attorney contended 72 per acre is allowed as long as there was a retail component. Two years ago, the council, which has jurisdiction over amending redevelopment plans, chose not to correct the language. An ordinance on the Sept. 25, 2018 agenda that would have corrected contradictory language was pulled from the agenda and never introduced.
In a quagmire on how to proceed, the planning board sent the application to the zoning board for interpretation. In July of last year, the zoning board voted unanimously to interpret the plan to allow for the 46-unit development to proceed.
After months of delays, on Aug. 10 the developer was back with a 40-unit plan proposing five studio units, 13 one-bedrooms, 21 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom apartment. The original 46-unit plan proposed 16 studios, 12 one-bedrooms, 17 two-bedrooms and a three-bedroom unit.
The number of affordable housing units — which represent 10 percent of total units under the town code — decreased from five to four, losing one affordable two-bedroom unit.
The developer pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for some changes including making the units larger, fewer studios, a co-working and virtual center for remote workers and a retail space offering a food court with grab-and-go items.
The number of proposed parking spots is now 73, with more being available for food court business. But board members were still concerned with the need for a parking variance.
Stolar maintained that the number of spaces would be more than any other development offered.
Attorney Tom Trautner suggested an adjournment until Sept. 14, when the developer is expected to present new layouts that reflect more comparable sizes of the affordable units to the market-rate units.
“It is not our intention to seem that it is not appropriately addressing the affordable units compared to the market-rate units,” he said.