Montclair deserves a better plan for Lackawanna Plaza and the historic Lackawanna Station

Postcard of Lackawanna Station circa early 1900s

The Montclair Planning Board and the Montclair Town Council recently granted approval to The Pinnacle Companies and The Hampshire Companies to redevelop the historic Lackawanna Plaza property.

It is our contention that the plans should not have been approved, and we are legally challenging the development on the following grounds:

Ignores the Master Plan

Montclair’s Master Plan was created to allow for growth yet still maintain livability. The Lackawanna development plan violates many aspects of the Master Plan; in fact no attempt was made by the Planning Board to make the developer comply. Examples include the needless destruction of historic structures and the creation of a giant parking lot as a “front yard.” Two alternative plans were presented which would not violate the Master Plan yet neither the Planning Board nor the developer considered these.

Inadequate traffic planning

There is currently no legal way to make a left into or out of either new parking lot entrance, on Bloomfield Avenue or Grove Street, yet the developer’s design (and traffic study) does not take this into account. The public was not presented with an opportunity to question or comment on the traffic plan in light of the no-left hand restrictions.

The parking lot is gigantic, yet too small

The planned parking lot will be much larger than it is now, however it will be half the size required by zoning. This is because the approved building is massive, leaving little room for cars. This is called a “self-created hardship” in legalese. Do we really want a football field of asphalt (bigger than even Whole Foods’ parking lot in West Orange)? A valet car operation will be allowed to use street parking yet the Planning Board’s expert said there would be no impact from this – in an area of town already critically short on parking.

Lack of oversight of tenant requirements

The approved plan is not what is being built. The developer insisted on a 47,000 square foot building (about the size of a big box store on the highway) despite a supermarket expert testifying this is far too large for a viable market in a downtown setting such as Lackawanna Plaza; in fact, Lidl wants only 29,000 square feet, yet the Planning Board approved the larger building without clarifying how the remaining space would be used (space which could have been used to meet zoned parking requirements).

At a minimum, the Planning Board should have required new traffic studies, a new loading dock design, and new signage renderings. Importantly, the public was not allowed to question the developer or its experts on the new design.

Procedural issues

There were dozens of procedural irregularities during the Planning Board process, any one of which justify an appeal, and which, taken together, show how the Planning Board never seriously considered any negative impact from this massive project.

From the outset, the Mayor and Town Council made clear they wanted this oversized development, despite what an independent Planning Board might have concluded or what the public wants. In fact, public comment and the right to question expert testimony was suppressed repeatedly during the application and approval process.

Historic Montclair

“Montclair Joyous in its New Terminal” proclaimed the New York Times on June 29, 1913.  The Montclair Times pronounced it “the handsomest and best arranged suburban railroad terminal in the United States.” School children lined the tracks waving American flags as the first train roared into the new Lackawanna Terminal Station on June 28, 1913. The entire population of Montclair celebrated the newly erected train station complex as the gateway to their beautiful town while allowing commuters the convenience of travel to New York City in less than an hour.

Notably absent from the festivities was William Hull Botsford, the young, ill-fated architect who perished in the Titanic tragedy on April 15, 1912.  Botsford is considered a protomodern architect and in the Lackawanna Terminal of Montclair, he used classical elements to emphasize the importance of the site.  Botsford designed the stations from Hoboken to Montclair in the new construction technique of poured concrete, with Montclair’s being the grandest. Montclair residents, past and present, continue to take pride in this iconic site.

Montclair’s Lackawanna Terminal has survived two prior demolition attempts, and is fighting for survival a third time. It is one of New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. It is listed on State and National Historic Registers, and a key building within Montclair’s Town Center Business Historic District.

We need your help.

A Better Lackawanna is therefore joining with like-minded citizens in suing the Montclair Planning Board. We demand a completely new application based upon safe and legal access to the parking lot and in compliance with the Master Plan for Montclair.

Foremost, note that A Better Lackawanna seeks the construction of a supermarket; a chief concern we have with the current plan is that it will not result in a viable building for the long-term success of a market due to inadequate access and parking. In addition, the developer has not proven that the existing handsome historic train sheds cannot be re-used.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Donate to the legal fund

Legal challenges are expensive, and the developer and township have formidable legal teams. While we feel strongly that the law is on our side, this is still going to be a battle. Please donate whatever amount you feel comfortable with.  Every dollar goes directly toward paying the legal fees associated with the lawsuit.
Contributions or gifts to A Better Lackawanna are not tax deductible. The donor list is confidential and will not be shared.

Join A Better Lackawanna

The lawsuit has been filed, but you can still sign your name and join A Better Lackawanna LLC, an advocacy group appealing the Montclair Planning Board’s approval of Lackawanna redevelopment. You will not be financially obligated in any way. The town needs to know we have the support and backing of the community.

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