employees
On Tuesday, the council will discuss eliminating an exemption to requiring some new businesses to provide on-site parking. FILE PHOTO

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Township Council will vote Tuesday on an ordinance to eliminate parking exemptions in the township’s two Central Business zones, and provide regulations for parking stackers.

Under Montclair’s current parking requirements, off-street, on-site parking is required to be provided for all new buildings, additions to buildings, conversions to greater residential densities or conversions to other uses that require more off-street parking.

However, developers in C-1 and C-3 zones are given one-time exemptions on additions of less than 15% of an existing building’s total square footage that do not reduce the number of off-street parking spaces that serve the property, or in cases of conversions to more intensive uses.

In August, the Montclair Township Council charged the township’s Planning Board with exploring eliminating that exemption.

SAVE MONTCLAIR LOCAL: We need your support, and we need it today. The journalism you value from Montclair Local, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, depends on the community's support — we exist because the old model of selling ads alone just can't fund journalism at the level we endeavor to provide. That's why you've seen other local newsrooms cut back staff or shut down entirely. Montclair Local was created because we believe that's unacceptable; the community's at its best when triumphs are celebrated, when power is held to account, when diverse lived experiences are shared — when the community is well-informed.

Montclair is seeking to raise $230,000 from donors, members and grantors between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to put us on firm footing for 2022, and continue supporting the hard work of our journalists into the new year and beyond. Visit MontclairLocal.news/donations to see how we're doing and make your contribution.

The parking exemption was originally put in place in 1978 to encourage development and help revitalize the Central Business District. The C-1 zone includes areas along Bloomfield Avenue, and areas between St. Luke’s Place/Francis Place, Elm Street/Grove Street and down to the Glen Ridge border. The C-3 zone includes portions of Glenridge Avenue and Church Street.

In 1992, the exemption was eliminated, but was put back in place in 1995 to further encourage revitalization. The language regarding the exemption was modified several more times until the current language was adopted, Township Planner Janice Talley said at an Aug. 23 Planning Board meeting.

Although relaxation of the parking requirement has led to revitalization of the Central Business District over the last 40 years, the exemption has also led to problems, Talley said.

“The biggest problem with the current language, however, is that parking-intensive uses are permitted to occupy existing buildings without providing for any additional parking,” she said. Parking needs increase when buildings with minimal parking demands (for instance, for storage, production or repair facilities) are replaced with new uses that have much higher parking demands (such as restaurants, retail locations and offices), she said. 

She cited the examples of The Crosby, a restaurant that replaced a former auto repair facility, and the four-story building at Gates Avenue, which was the former home of Gibraltar Van Lines. 

“Both projects generated a large parking demand but were not required to provide any onsite parking,” Talley said at the Aug. 23 meeting.

Councilman Peter Yacobellis told Montclair Local that he is against getting rid of the one-time exemption, especially when it pertains to small businesses looking to open up in Montclair. He said businesses may choose other towns that have fewer restrictions. 

“They will have to jump through another hoop before a land use board to get a variance for parking, which they won’t be able to provide in most cases. It will become a lengthy and expensive process. We risk losing the small businesses to the big players that have the time and money to wait it out,” he said.

The ordinance being considered on second reading Tuesday also reiterates that Montclair discourages the use of mechanical car stackers and that they will not be permitted to count toward the minimum number of required parking spaces.

Mechanical parking stackers will also require site plan approvals by the Planning Board.

In two cases, parking stackers have been considered. The planning board approved the use of stackers at the Orange Road garage in 2017, only to approve the owners’ request to remove them this year as the system was deemed unsafe and was never put into use. 

In July, Steven Plofker, owner of a real estate and medical office building on Bloomfield Avenue, proposed installing a 14-car-stacking system to increase parking in his current 16-spot lot.

Parking requirements under Montclair zoning require one spot per 150 square feet for the medical offices, one per 250 square feet for the real estate office, one spot per three seats for restaurants and one spot per 200 square feet of retail space. 

At the July meeting, board member Jeffrey Jacobson said the parking stacking systems are “ugly” and expressed concerns about vehicles getting stuck on the lift after hours.

The application was conceptual only, meaning Plofker had wanted to get a feel of how the board would vote on an application for parking stackers. The application has not been scheduled for a hearing.

“In addition, new development is proposing the use of parking stackers, which are often unsightly, to increase the capacity of existing parking lots,” Talley said.

On Aug. 23, the planning board issued a written recommendation that the new ordinance, eliminating the exemptions for parking requirements and putting in place requirements for parking stackers, “is more in line with current conditions in the township and that the proposed ordinance is consistent with the Unified Land Use and Circulation Plan.” 

Yacobellis agreed that Montclair has parking challenges, but said there are factors at play that haven’t been noted such as the Seymour Street Parking Garage opening, the Glenridge Garage opening next year and how the pandemic has affected parking needs.