A Montclair resident Martin Gonzalez sent the following letter to the Montclair Planning Board Sunday in regards to Monday night's anticipated action on the CentroVerde redevelopment project. The Planning Board meets at 7:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 205 Claremont Ave.
Dear Planning Board:
To the extent that you believe the issue before you on Monday is whether allowing a bulky eight-story building is “good planning,” I would hope you would consider the following:
• the proposed eight-story building, set immediately along Bloomfield Avenue, will be out of scale with everything else along the major artery in Town (including the Town Center Historic District); it will be a huge, bulky, blot on our landscape, and one that will block the views that have always given that commercial area an attractive setting;
• the developer before you has admitted that the traditional building height in that area is four stories, and yet in asking you to permit it to double that height, it has also admitted that it cannot provide the level of setbacks you might expect in a building of similar bulk because the architect’s plan won’t allow it. Why should Montclair accept an inferior design in giving someone permission to build the largest and potentially most important building to impact our streetscape?
• however bulky the already approved building is, the extra two stories —rising to a height not disclosed at the last meeting — is significantly worse, and the one-foot extra setback at the fourth story is not a significant improvement over the prior building;
• has there been any analysis of how the additional two stories (with additional residents) will impact traffic? Or how such a plan comports with either our current Master Plan or the Master Plans of the neighboring towns —who noticeably have never approved a building of that size along their own slices of Bloomfield Avenue?
For all of the above reasons, I would hope that you would conclude that there are no grounds for concluding that approving this new building constitutes good planning.
But you must also recognize that the question actually before you is quite different. This is the question legally before you, in accordance with Town Resolution R-13-125:
"WHEREAS, the selected redeveloper has expressed an interest in participating in a transfer of development rights option in which additional density for the CentroVerde project can be obtained by purchasing the development rights of selected Township-owned properties located in a redevelopment area and creating a park in the downtown area and the Township Council finds that it is in the best interest of the public to create additional downtown open space;
and NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Township Council of the Township of Montclair, County of Essex, hereby authorizes the Planning Board to evaluate the Montclair Center Gateway Phase 1 Redevelopment Plan and to recommend amendments to the plan that will facilitate a transfer of development rights option."
Of course, that is why the Planning Board’s own agenda similarly provides (much as it has repeatedly said throughout this process) that there will be “Continued discussion of a proposed amendment to the redevelopment plan to permit a transfer of development rights option to create public open space.”
In other words, you have not been asked to decide whether, in a vacuum, allowing a developer to breach the heights of current zoning limits in the area is “good planning.”
You have specifically been asked to consider allowing the transfer of development rights to the developer in order to facilitate (justify?) the building of an eight-story structure.
If, as appears to be the case, the Town is now recognizing that it cannot legally use a TDR process in this situation, then the Planning Board should insist on a new resolution that clearly states a legal objective that the Board should consider.
Both you and the public deserve that corners not be cut in what could be one of the most important decisions you face for decades.
Furthermore, because the issue that the Town Council has put before you inextricably ties together the Valley Road parking lot to the granting of an additional two stories, you must consider the following:
• How is it good planning to take away vital street level parking along Bloomfield Avenue?
• Do the residents and tenants along Bloomfield Avenue need a park there, or is that something that Centro Verde’s residents want to see from their eight-story windows?
• Can this developer actually ensure that extra parking will remain available (and cheap) at the Orange Road deck?
• How is it good (and legal) precedent to allow a developer who is denied development above current zoning heights to return to the board with a proposal in which it has purchased the extra development rights from the Town? The language of the Town’s Ordinance and the Board’s agenda belie any claim that this is simply a proposal for an offsite improvement. Rather, it is exactly what the Town has said it is: an attempt to purchase development rights for use above the standard that this Board has already applied. The Town gets cash (which it may or may not choose to build whatever kind of park it wants), and — to quote the Town’s governing Resolution—the developer “obtains” “additional density.”
I urge you to reject the Council and the Developer in their attempt to circumvent the Board’s prior determination not to allow a building in excess of the current zoning standard. Eight stories was bad planning the last time you looked at this issue. It remains bad planning today. And the Developer’s attempt to purchase the rights to an extra two stories does not turn it into good planning.