Ben Roderick’s letter to the editor (published at MontclairLocal.news under the headline “You say ‘gentrification’ I say more opportunity for Montclair’s future“) has a misguided premise at its core. That’s because he ignores the needs of the very people who actually still live in our township today.
Montclair was formally designed circa 1906 from the Nolan Plan, as multiple village areas with six train stations that brought people right into neighborhoods. Therefore, we do not need more intensive “transit village” new construction today to bring newcomers into one or two dense locations, ostensibly to limit auto traffic by putting commuter apartments closer to trains. As one resident described it on Facebook, that’s the worst of both worlds because it just adds more cars.
Instead, our Township Councils have continued to refuse to use zoning laws here to further limit more high-density development. And that is what’s actually fueled rising rental prices and property speculation while encouraging gentrification. Actual supply and demand is not what’s driving our building boom today. It’s the expectation of developer and property owner profits.
When markets run too fast and hot like this, government needs to intervene — here, with zoning laws that reduce the heights and density of developer new construction. The kinds of larger new builds that raise entry rental pricing to make them more profitable — prompting other, smaller property owners to now say, “Well, I can get that price point too.”
That’s if one’s goal is to really maintain the township’s economic and racial diversity.
We could and still can slow down the rental market by limiting building bulk and density. We do not need to wildly encourage younger residents to come here, as Ben Broderick advocates, and to potentially add more new kids into the schools. There are plenty there already. And this costs more tax dollars. People will come and leave here on their own. We don’t need to fuel a building boom, or an exit-price profit-scramble by encouraging commercial property owners to sell for speculation, just to create more larger residential rental housing.
Reacting by coming from behind now with rent controls is a clear sign our councils and elected leaders have dropped the ball. It’s a Band-Aid on what could have been done organically with forward thinking commercial area preservation laws and land-use zoning and planning. Changes that would help maintain our socio-economic diversity and our historic, promotable destination charm — which we say we want, but leaders have allowed to slip away by continued inaction. And they still don’t get it.
This month, Councilwoman Robin Schlager, who sits on the Planning Board, complained about a proposed new five-story building on Elm Street near Lackawanna — a build she felt was too big and bulky for that location. And yet, she and fellow planning board member Mayor Sean Spiller were on the same Township Council that refused to enact zoning changes there proposed by this very Planning Board. They’re changes that now appear in the Master Plan, but not the zoning code. It would have been rezoning that would have legally limited construction heights and density for this very building she is now concerned about.
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