By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A parking expert told the Planning Board Monday that the Orange Road garage could park up to 694 vehicles in the case of a special event by going mostly valet.
But the board wasn’t buying it, with Chairman John Wynn calling the plan “vague” and getting visibly frustrated with the expert’s testimony throughout the meeting.
The deck and its lift and stack system, which the Planning Board approved in 2017, had been expected to accommodate 614 cars, with 123 valeted and 116 on the lifts. In January, the developer’s attorney told the board that the lift system had been deemed unsafe and could not be utilized due to engineering problems. Montclair Acquisition Partners LLC is now in litigation against the company that installed it, said Tom Trautner, the developers’ attorney.
The developers are now asking that the board approve plans to remove the stacking system and convert those areas to traditional parking. However, when the developers presented the lift and stack system to the board in 2017, they also asked for approval to expand the building out 13 inches onto municipal property to accommodate it. When the expansion was approved, it also came with facade changes from precast concrete to the metal stacking mechanisms prominently flanking the building today.
Now the board has suggested the land be taken back by the township through demolition of the front of the garage and reverting to the originally planned precast concrete since, as Wynn has pointed out, the waivers, variances, facade and easements were specifically based on the stacking system. He said the easement was a compromise.
The developers have claimed a hardship, saying that removing the front entirely would cost $1 million on top of the $5.4 million already spent and that no contractor will get involved in fixing the stacking system now in place but unusable.
The parking deck currently accommodates parking for residents of Valley & Bloom, Board of Education administrators, office users, retail employees and the general public. Additionally, the MC Hotel uses the fifth floor of the deck for its guests on a valet basis. The hotel provides a pickup and drop-off by the hotel porte-cochere.
The parking deck operates 24-7. Parking is designated by level for residents, the Board of Education, retail patrons, office users and the MC Hotel.
On Monday, Kristen Sokich, executive vice president of Propark Mobility, described how his company could increase parking from the 574 proposed with the replacing of the stacking with metal slabs and 147 valeted to 694, by using eight valets and valeting 426 vehicles into lanes of up to eight cars on the fourth through sixth decks during special events at the hotel.
“Is this a realistic plan during events? The problem comes when you have events people come and go in waves,” Wynn said.
In his report for the board, Gerard Giosa, of Level G Associates, said there “is concern about the aggressiveness of the valet stacking plan (many rows eight deep; some rows nine deep) and the ability to retrieve vehicles in a safe and timely fashion. In addition, there is a lack of storage/staging areas for vehicles that are being repositioned to retrieve deeply buried vehicles.”
Giosa also noted that because public parking and valet retrieval traffic will be mixing in the parking deck and on the ramps, hairpin turns and short sight lines could create unsafe conditions.
“Even with eight valets, it’s going to be a challenge. Like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag,” he said.
But Sokich said that during valet operations attendants will control the ramps and queueing areas to ensure pedestrian and vehicular safety. Signs will direct people attending hotel events to the upper levels, where their cars will be taken by a valet. Waiting areas will be located near stairs and elevators.
Visitors will tell the attendant how long they will be, which will determine where the vehicle will be placed. An app for visitors will notify the garage that they will be coming for their car. Sokich said even if a car needing to be retrieved has cars parked behind it, it would only take the valet three to four minutes to return it to its owner.
Although Sokich said that he would be aware of and plan for special events at the hotel, the valets don’t ask vehicle owners where they are going, such as to a hotel event, to visit friends or to dinner. They do ask, however, how long they will be.
Former Planning Board member Martin Schwartz called into the meeting, accusing the developers of moving on the erection of the stacking system into the public right of way prior to the board’s final approval in 2017 of facade changes. He also accused the current owner of working on the garage two weeks ago prior to this application being approved.Trautner denied Schwartz’ accusation and said there are active permits in place that allow for current work.
Planner James Miller also testified on behalf of the developers, arguing that they should not have to deconstruct the front of the building, as it meets the hardship criteria due to cost. He also contended that the encroachment is at most 8 inches, with most of the facade complying within the encroachment line.
“It would involve more than just the foundation and involves a five-, six-story wall already in place,” Miller said, adding the time it would take to deconstruct an already complete and open facility would be disruptive. The developers planned for the lift system, but at the fault of the installer it is not operable, he said.
Schwartz asked, “If you are not required to push the entire building back out of the public space today with all prior plan amendments agreed to based on you providing the lift system now not being installed, don’t you feel you should compensate Montclair in some way for the broken promises and use of public space received — by adding back better precast facade detailing to create a nicer building?”
Trautner responded that the building’s “approved design does not need to be made better.”