Rendering of the Orange Road Garage.
PLANNING DEPARTMENT

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The developers of the Orange Road garage say removing the part of the facility that includes a now-defunct vehicle lift system would be too costly, and cause a lengthy and messy construction period.

Instead, they’re looking to expand flat-floor parking into the same space.

At a January Montclair planning board meeting, the developers announced they no longer plan to use a vehicle lift system at the site — even though Montclair’s Planning Board in 2017 let them expand their footprint into municipal property to accommodate the structure.

The system cannot be utilized due to engineering problems and safety issues, and the developers are now in litigation against the company that installed it, said Tom Trautner, the developers’ attorney.

The developers were back at the Planning Board on Feb. 22 to present plans to remove the “non-functioning mechanical parking apparatus” and replace it with horizontal flat-floor parking in the same space on five of the six parking levels. Removing the portion of the facility where the lift system is installed entirely instead would cost $6.4 million, the developers said.

Project executive Joe Casillo said five lift contractors had declined getting involved in finishing the installation.

The Orange Road parking deck — with the lift system plan — was expected to provide 119 parking spaces for the Valley & Bloom apartments, 231 spaces for the MC Hotel (with 123 reserved at all times) and 78 for Montclair Board of Education employees (later revised to 48), as well as public parking. In November 2019, the Montclair Police Department began leasing 20 spaces as well, according to a planning report. 

A plan to dedicate another 48 spaces for township use is also under review, according to parking expert Gerard Giosa.

The applicant, Montclair Acquisition Partners Urban Renewal LLC, argues that even with the loss of parking from the lift system from 614 to 550 spots (the system was to handle 116 cars), the garage could still provide adequate supply based on pre-pandemic usage data and with 123 being valeted.

But according to a plan proposed by parking expert Kristen Sokich of ‎Propark Mobility, by adding the new flat-floor parking, dropping the number of self-parking spaces to 268, and using a valet, the facility could accommodate another 432 vehicles, for a total of 700. Sokich said that the garage has never been filled to capacity, with a maximum of 438 in its current state, but in the case of a special event at the hotel it could implement more valet parking to accommodate the 700.

Board member Robin Schlager questioned the valet being able to handle special events saying that at the hotel’s grand opening held last year, she had to wait an hour and half to get her car from the valet. 

In 2017, the garage redeveloper presented its plan to build the stacking system to increase parking by 116 spaces, but asked to expand the building out about 13 inches onto township property to do so. The new plans came with facade changes from precast concrete to the metal stacking mechanisms prominently flanking the building today. The planning board approved the waiver. The developer is still required to enter into another easement with the township for another 8 inches, which hasn’t happened yet, Trautner said. 

Board members had suggested that the front of the building be removed and with it the 20-inch encroachment, and that the facade be updated with what the board had originally approved. 

Chairman John Wynn has pointed to the fact that waivers, variances, facade and easements were specifically based on the stacking system, saying the easement was a compromise.

Trautner said that “20 inch encroachment” actually ran 4 to 8 inches and is minimal. It still allowed for a sidewalk and the developer should not be made to move back the building based on principle, he said.

According to township records, the township created the Orange Road Parking Plaza in 1948 and made a subsequent 1967 purchase of what is now Centro Verde Way for access from Valley Road, combining the lots and declaring it a redevelopment area. The town leased the land to DCH Auto Group in 2003. The group built a storage deck in 2004, with Montclair retaining exclusive rights to 78 spaces, historically used by the neighboring Board of Education office, for $1. 

The Gateway Redevelopment Area was created in 2012 and absorbed the redevelopment area. Pinnacle Cos. partnered with MAP Urban Renewal to refurbish the parking deck. The plan requires Montclair to retain the 78 spaces.

Subsequently, MAP, replaced by LCOR, developed the hotel parcel and the Valley & Bloom development.

Final testimony is planned for the March 22 meeting.

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