MONTCLAIR, NJ – The Montclair Planning Board spent another long night at its December 7 online meeting discussing the application for the planned mixed-use building at 65 Church Street, currently the site of the parking lot for the former Hahne’s department store. The witnesses who testified at this third and final hearing addressed concerns expressed by board members from previous hearings and offered changes to the plans for the building.
Architect Bruce Stieve went over some of the changes with the board members. He was able to add two additional spaces in the basement parking garage in place of two spaces on the ground-floor-level parking area. This was done to free up ground-floor-level space in order to make adjustments to the plan that include a walkway for pedestrians providing access to the apartment tenants’ lobby behind the retail frontage, which Stieve created in response to concerns about pedestrian safety. After Stieve switched the two parking spaces to the basement garage, he modified the dimensions of the ground-floor gymnasium for the apartment tenants, which allowed for the walkway to run parallel to the building on the eastern side of the plaza, away from the drive aisle on the western side of the property.
The parking spaces, meanwhile, measure out at 8’6”x18’, with eighteen 8’x16’ spaces for compact cars – four on the ground-floor parking level and fourteen on the basement parking level. The plan required a waiver from the township, though, as the code for parking spaces for compact cars calls for 8’x17’ spaces.
Stieve moved one of the two charging stations for electric vehicles to a ground-floor-level residential parking space to allow daytime charging for public use when the tenant is away. He also readjusted the floor plan for the location of the eight affordable units to keep them to a more acceptable standard of floor space for apartments in Montclair. The affordable studio unit measures 540 square feet, the five affordable 2-bedroom units range between 1,060 and 1,260 square feet, and the two affordable 3-bedoom units measure at 1,185 square feet each.
But Stieve’s biggest change was in the use of materials and colors. He offered up a warmer, more yellowish tone of brick and stucco that he said was less stark than the originally proposed white façade, explaining that it would take the contemporary edge off the design. The metal panels on the façade were also given more detail to further soften the edges. Dean Marchetto, Stieve’s partner in the architectural firm Marchetto Higgins Stieve in Hoboken, added supporting testimony. Marchetto explained that Montclair’s redevelopment plan inspired the design to be an “interpretive modern design” that, with the revisions, addressed the concerns that board members, especially Chairman John Wynn, had about the modernity of the building in contrast to the other structures in the area. Marchetto said that the solid decorative brick base now being proposed, along with a detailed metal roofline and detailed top-story zinc panels, would be compatible with each other and hold the top and bottom of the building together. Other design elements include lighter stucco with a smoother finish and detailed lines running between the windows.
Chairman Wynn was receptive to the changes but still wary of the fact that he could not see the materials in real life, noting that the colors appeared differently in reality than they do in a rendering shown on a computer screen. “We’ve learned the hard way that there’s a difference,” he said. Planning Director Janice Talley said that samples of the materials to be used would be available by appointment at her office for the board members to review them.
One concern Sony David of Langan Engineering had to face in his testimony was the use of fences on the western and eastern sides of the property. The board members liked the use of wood fencing with powdered-metal posts, but they agreed that the originally proposed four-foot height was insufficient; David agreed to make the fences six feet in height. Mayor Sean Spiller took interest in the use of the plaza for events, and the applicants eventually agreed to allow the township first option on event programming. Board member Carmel Loughman said that a name was appropriate for the building because it would add credence to the plaza as a public space for all Montclair residents. David was sympathetic to her suggestion, though he admitted that a name for the building had not been chosen yet.
Architectural consultants Barton Ross and Ira Smith both weighed in on the changes Stieve had made to his design. Ross said that the new colors work in the context of the neighboring buildings and that the recesses of the metal panels translated into better shadow lines, while Smith said that palette changes made the combination of brick and metal more effective, agreeing that the embellishments on the window frames added to the detail of the façades. Stieve, for his part, was confident that the added detailing on the building would make it, as Chairman Wynn asked, “look less like a box.” Attorney Cameron MacLeod, representing the developers, insisted that his clients were ready and eager to provide a high-quality project of Montclair, one that would offer a strong presence in Montclair’s downtown landscape for a long time.
“We’re not look at this as a shot in the dark,” MacLeod said.
After MacLeod’s summation, Chairman Wynn admitted that he was warming to the improved design. “I do think it can be a good fit in this area,” he said. He did say, however, that he wanted to review the actual materials personally.
Board attorney Arthur Neiss reviewed the conditions for the project, which include a construction staging plan to be reviewed by the township, a master signage plan to be reviewed by the Development Review Committee or the revisions committee of the Planning Board, and a look at expanding hours for public parking, which Mayor Spiller pushed for to accommodate Montclair’s various nightlife amenities. The board approved the project, but with one dissenting vote. Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager called the building “drab” and “dull” and voted against it. Loughman, for her part, said it was a handsome building and she expected the open plaza to be a major asset.
After a long, hard 2020, the Planning Board is not yet done for the year. It is scheduled to consider and vote on its SAFE Streets Plan, which will set guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians, at a meeting on December 14.