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The developer of a housing and retail project on the Ferrara’s Auto Body property on Orange Rod has been given the go-ahead to proceed.
COURTESY PLANNING DEPARTMENT

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

After a year of testimony over density, parking and affordable housing, the Planning Board has approved a 40-unit residential and retail development on Orange Road at the former Ferrara’s Auto Body property. 

Developer Brian Stolar presented plans in August that reduced the density from 46 units to 40, but was then told by board members that the four affordable housing units included in the project were not comparable in size and did not have the same number of bathrooms as the corresponding market-rate units, as required by code. 

On Sept. 15, Stolar presented new plans increasing the square footage of the affordable units, which consist of one one-bedroom, two two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom. The revised plans added another bathroom to each of the two- and three-bedroom units. 

In August, the developer presented a 40-unit plan with five studio units, 13 one-bedrooms, 21 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom apartment. Because the number of units decreased, the number of affordable units also decreased, from five to four, representing the 10 percent of total units required under the town code. 

The developer pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for some changes, including making some of 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. 

But officials accused the developer of scrimping on the affordable units.

The new configuration now holds fewer studios but more one-bedrooms: three studio units, 15 one-bedrooms, 21 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom.

Plans presented on Monday, Sept. 14, increased the sizes of the affordable units: the one- bedroom jumped from 666 square feet to 721, the two-bedrooms from 987 square feet to 1,100, and the three-bedroom from 1,058 square feet to 1,240. 

The developer was seeking waivers for parking for 73 spaces, using a stacking system, from the 86 required; using Green Globe instead of LEED to fulfill sustainability requirements; and for the installation of the pedestrian plaza.  

Karl Pehnke, the developer’s engineer, has maintained that rather than use the state’s recommendation of 1.8 spaces parking spaces per unit, 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, Pehnke said. In addition, the parking will be valet-operated. 

DENSITY AT ISSUE

Throughout the hearings, the site’s density has been an issue, as officials and the developer argued over 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 are allowed as long as there is a retail component. Two years ago the Township 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 quandary 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 the 40-unit plan. And on Sept. 14, Stolar said he would donate $150,000 to the Montclair Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide an off-site unit.

After approving revised floor plans for the affordable units as presented on Sept. 14, the board voted through the project with six in favor, Mayor Sean Spiller and member Carol Willis abstaining, and member Carmel Loughman voting no.

Spiller began serving on the board in May and therefore had not been at a majority of the hearings, while Willis said she was disappointed that the retail portion made up only 5 percent of the project. Loughman said she felt the project “did not enhance the area,” suggesting that 18 town houses would have better mirrored the residential homes across the street, and that she was concerned that the parking plan is relying on a third-party valet company.