Montclair's 'Transit Rich Assets' Key to Future Growth

Township Manager Marc Dashield and Township Planner Janice Talley talk about the Master Plan and future development on Tuesday.


Imagine driving into Montclair and passing by 10-story buildings on Bloomfield Avenue, or walking past five-story buildings overlooking the Upper Montclair train station and Watchung Plaza.  

While these monoliths may be a foreign sight in Montclair in the present, they may become a reality within the next 30 years as the township determines how best to balance long-term growth with sustainability. 

Recommendations for how best to utilize Montclair’s land and housing resources, known as the unified land-use element of the township’s Master Plan, was unveiled Tuesday at a 4th Ward community meeting where about 60 residents turned out. 

However, unlike traditional land-use plans, the township is also including a never-before used circulation element, which will take into account the different sorts of transportation in town. 

“What the township is preparing is not a typical land-use plan,” said Township Planner Janice Talley. “This is really a land-use and mobility plan [which will be] tying together transportation ... policies and land-use policies.” 

Recommendations for the township’s unified land-use and circulation element, said Talley, focused on the town’s “transit rich assets,” such as the six train station hubs and countless bus stops throughout town, in addition to its roadways, sidewalks, pedestrian connections and bicycle routes. 

The recommendations included two- to six-story buildings around the Upper Montclair, Walnut Street and Watchung Plaza train stations. In addition, improvements to pedestrian and bicycle transportation were suggested, as well as adjusting parking requirements.  

In Montclair Center along Bloomfield Avenue, seven- to 10-story buildings were recommended to be constructed around Lackawanna Plaza, Bay Street train station and Church Street. A new jitney shuttle, improvements to walkways and bicycle paths, and adjusting public parking were also recommended in this area of town. 

Building around these transit areas will allow Montclair to bear the increased grow expected in the coming three decades, estimated to be more than 3,500 units. 

Transit oriented development is smart, said Township Manager Marc Dashield, because it encourages those residents to have fewer cars and use alternate means of transportation, and bring in less children in those smaller units so as not to burden the school system more than it already is. 

While Montclair will change, Talley added the integrity of the township will be preserved. 

“Part of planning is preserving residential areas and maintaining economic base,” said Talley. “... We don’t want to stop growth. The plan allows Montclair to grow in an appropriate manner.”

These recommendations, however, will not determine precisely what will be in these areas, said Dashield. 

“This lays out a vision and a plan for the future,” said Dashield. “This is a vision  .... This is just the beginning.” 

The township’s unified land use and circulation element is one part of Montclair’s 30-year Master Plan, and does not include housing, open space or historic preservation elements. 

The adoption process for the Master Plan will begin in March. The Master Plan will ultimately be voted on by the Planning Board.

frank rubacky February 21, 2013 at 05:41 AM
I will be very critical of the Master Plan because the foundation, the Baseline Conditions, was fundamentally inadequate. If the MP working group went back and addressed the deficiencies, then there is a chance this Master Plan will be out of the ordinary. Odds are against it. As such, the discussion will break down into very manageable NIMBY arguments that can and will be deflected or are set-ups to be lost in the negotiated version. The bottom-line takeaway are the significant zoning changes. It's always about the zoning. It is the only reason NJ governments goes through this process. In Montclair's cae, it is two-fold:: 1) neighborhood business districts (like U Mtc & Walnut) will be built with the double the verticality. Next time you are in a neighborhood business district, take 60 seconds to look up. Find the tallest building and then double it. 2) the Residential (R-) districts zoning will be "adjusted" to put more into less space. It will happen in a number of different ways. It will raise property values in the short run. Regardless of the intended outcome, R- districts are the heart & soul of suburbs like Montclair...not the business districts. It is not something to done lightly by a subcommittee lacking in diversity.
frank rubacky February 21, 2013 at 05:41 AM
What the 30 year vision of Montclair's Master Plan will likely ignore is municipal consolidation. I will go out on a limb here WWAG and say the draft version release does not address it. If so, it will be like the 1970's when IBM was talking about a new model of business typewriters just as pc's were going mainstream. Talk about a vision disconnect between municipal, county & state!
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 21, 2013 at 01:16 PM
Ms. Talley did not present the town's Master Plan. She presented only one piece of it, the "unified land-use and circulation element." Of course, as with most initiatives and decisions made by this Town Council, the "Montclair Master Plan" still remains under wrap and lock. It is now the end of February 2013 and the plan will start to be adopted in March 2013 and the taxpayer still has little inkling of what they are signing up to for the next 30 years. But, no matter (and it really does not matter) because the town's Master Plan will be voted on adopted by the town's Planning Board. Of course, there is always the likelihood that such a board will vote against the plan it put forward. We have no little idea of what this Town Council wants to sign us up to. We have no idea of budget or costs. Zero. We do know that the Town Council is spending a lot of money on this plan that will be presented to the good citizens as a fait accompli.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 21, 2013 at 01:30 PM
What is behind this "Master Plan?" Debt. The Town Council wants to "develop" Montclair out of the quarter billion dollar debt it now has. This means, it wants to attract more people to come and live in Montclair so they can help pay off the town debt. It is that simple and that wrongheaded. The Town Council should begin by presenting complete budget, that includes all incomes and expenditures and a clear overview of Montclair's debt. It should then investigate what the causes of this debt were and how we can significantly reduce spending. People who live in Montclair want to live in a suburb. They do not want to live among high rises and in crowded neighborhoods. Putting up high rise buildings in the Upper Montclair, Walnut Street and Grove Street business districts will lead, at best, to a "developer's city appearance," overcrowding, and increased traffic. It might, temporarily, lead to an increase in young "hipsters from Brooklyn" (how cool), but it will definitely lead to an exodus of those who want a suburban life-style. Moreover, the 30 year plan will be just a vague scenario that will allow this Town Council to make decisions by shooting from the hip and without accountability. If Council members believe that by one of them standing on a corner for an hour on a sunny afternoon gives them a new "study" on traffic (read, encouraging grammar school children to go out for pizza during school hours), then what should we expect from a "Master Plan?"
tryintosurvive February 21, 2013 at 02:47 PM
The townspeople voted this town council in. The slate said explicitly that they would not focus on reducing our debt by reducing expenses, but by generating revenue. That is what most voters seemed to like. During the campaign, any mentions of reducing expenses by outsourcing or other methods was cast aside as "tea party speak". We got the town council that we voted for and they are doing what they said they would. It is too late to criticize their methods. Besides, it might work. Certainly the methods used by prior councils did not.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 21, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Because this Town Council was voted into office, it does not give them the right to reduce the quality of life in Montclair. If their four years in public office results in 30 years of increased town debt, increased property taxes, reduced parklands, chaotic and dangerous traffic regulations while giving free tax passes to developers for building high rise buildings that have no place in Montclair, creating urban ghetto areas in town with high crime rates, increasing the number of town employees, and leaving the town with new jail space to be rented out, then this is not acceptable. People elected to public office need to be transparent and accountable while in public office.
tryintosurvive February 21, 2013 at 05:06 PM
The council is being judicious about reducing the debt. They also seem to understand that increasing taxes is not an option. They have been very clear on their goal and the strategy to reduce the debt, that is to build up around the train stations. You may want more details or disagree with the approach, but this strategy has not been hidden at all.
ira shor February 21, 2013 at 05:26 PM
This TC development plans will raise taxes and damage family life. High-rises enrich developers with PILOTs and tax abatements, which costs will be transferred to home-owning families. Bklyn hipsters won't move here to live in a poorly-built, small 1/2BR apts put up by low-grade dev who cut corners for a small town without hotspots young people seek in NYC. For 20 yrs, TC and cronies promised tax relief if only we build the next big thing or sell this school or parcel. Promises never came true; quality of life declined, over-crowding, higher taxes, traffic, parking shortage. Families move to MTC and pay premium home prices and high taxes for ONE COMPELLING REASON--THEIR CHILDREN. Parents want excellent schools with small classes and good teachers; they want safe, leafy, clean streets and parks; they want reliable services; they want a 21st century town where kids of all colors grow up together. This is why TC must be family-friendly first, not development-friendly. Family-friendly means putting kids first---financing high-quality schls with teachers and teacher-aides caring for our kids, not cutting budgets and returning millions to TC for dev--maintaining parks and trees---collecting the garbage and recycling--great civic events like First Night. Families do not move to Mtc for high-rise bdlgs. close to fancy restaurants or boutiques. We want this town to be a great place to raise our kids. Family-life is our great asset. This TC is ruining this with its lust for dev.
tryintosurvive February 21, 2013 at 06:27 PM
The town council has some ideas that they believe will be beneficial to the town. Does anyone else who posts here have some ideas on how to reduce the debt and improve services? I dont think that it is enough just to say "what the council is doing is wrong". If there are better ideas, lets hear them. They should include ideas on where any revenue would come from.
jensph February 21, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Note that Upper Montclair already has a seven story residential building just north of the A&P (see: https://maps.google.com/maps/myplaces?hl=en&ll=40.838017,-74.20717&spn=0.003486,0.004115&ctz=300&t=m&z=18&layer=c&cbll=40.838017,-74.20717&panoid=Sg4qs-FjCArs6Xc8dJ4UJw&cbp=12,256.86,,0,-13.96).
Jeff Jacobson February 22, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Ira, I generally agree with you that Montclair should be a "families first" town, and that families choose Montclair (as I did in 2007) as a great place to raise kids. But I have a question for you on which I'd love to hear your perspective: Is encouraging development around the train stations necessarily in tension with a "families first" priority? In practice, it certainly might be, but conceptually, which is all this is so far, what do you think? One view is that having more commercial ratables, and more property tax-paying residents without kids in the schools, can give us revenues we need to improve schools and services. That makes sense to me, if the development doesn't fundamentally change the character of the town. What do you think?
christopher swenson February 22, 2013 at 07:18 PM
I attended this while the discussion was on the Master Plan. What the article did not say is how angry most of the residents were about the plan. There were heated objections to the building heights, reducing open space, traffic, etc. Dashield and Talley said there was still time for input from residents in this process. The P Board needs to approve the Master Plan and then the Town Council would need to approve the zoning changes that would be necessary to implement it. My sense is though, this is a done deal. The PBoard has already seen the draft plan and if they had raised serious objections to it, it would be different. If you look at who is now on the Planning Board, I would guess the new appointees (obviously Mayor Jackson and Councilor McMahon since they ran on this) are all in favor. The funniest part of the meeting was when someone asked Ms. Talley what the time frame for the plan was. When she said 30 years there was out loud laughter. The average age in the room was probably 65. It was ironic to me that there was so much opposition from 4th Ward residents. The 4th Ward gave Jackson a historically large majority and this is essentially is the plan he ran on-just some more details are being filled in. I don't agree with the "vision" of it, but our slate lost and this is what folks voted for. Give him credit for doing what he promised. Of course he also promised a forensic audit of the town, so maybe there is still hope.
CMFAS55 February 22, 2013 at 08:34 PM
Chris - that is the problem. I suspect that the majority of the 4th ward and others who voted for Montclair 2012 paid no attention to the platform except for the promise to keep municipal workers employed. I suspect that they also bought the garbage referring to other candidates as Tea Party activists. Jackson seems like a good guy but the 2012 slate plan was pretty clear cut - raise revenue by developing heavily around the train stations and look to sell Montclair muni services to other towns. While even those who voted for Montclair 2012 are entitled to complain about how they actually run the town, this is exactly in line with the platform they ran on.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 23, 2013 at 01:09 AM
The Mayor, the Town Council and the Planning Board are all wrong on this. It is no longer a question of what platform was used to gain election, it is a question of whether these public officials are acting openly and in the interest of the community or for some other (private?) interests. The point is, the people who pay taxes and need to live by (and pay for) the decisions made by this Town Council simply do not know what is going on. tryingtosurvive may for one or another reason want to see Montclair turned into an urban development zone, but it is not what the vast majority of the town's people want. But even regardless of whatever this secret 30 Year Master Plan may be (though well having regard for those who will end up paying for it), the fact remains that there is nothing judicious or clear in their manner of governance. And this is what gives the most cause for concern. We do not know why this Town Council want to purchase the former Social Security Building on Bloomfield Avenue and block it from being used to assist the homeless. We do not know how much of the town's people's money they plan to spend on it or what they will do with it after purchasing it. We simply don't know.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 23, 2013 at 01:23 AM
(cont.) We do not know why the town needs to build a new administration building (and a jail!). The Town Council claims that the current buildings are old and dilapidated, on the one hand, but on the other hand they claim that businesses are lining up to take over those buildings and pay taxes on them. Of course, there are lots of vacant commercial spaces in Montclair already, but all these businesses are just waiting for the huge Montclair public work force to abandon the old buildings so they can move in and pay off the town's debt. The most ostentatious move the Town Council has done has been to give developers a pass on paying taxes. Why? Simply stating "The town council has some ideas that they believe will be beneficial to the town." is not enough. The Town Council has a responsibility to make those ideas public and discuss them openly and transparently with the town's people. And it needs to do so in specific terms with cost analysis. Otherwise they are neither "ideas" or "visions," but simply political (and dangerous) fantasies. And trying to turn the onus toward those who legitimately disagree by saying "Does anyone else who posts here have some ideas on how to reduce the debt and improve services?" is disingenuous. Obviously whatever member of the Town Council is thinking this is also deaf to their own constituents. They simply did not listen to the good folks that spoke up loudly and clearly this past Tuesday evening.
frank rubacky February 23, 2013 at 03:28 AM
In all fairness, none of the 3 slates or the mayoral candidates addressed the master plan draft during the campaign. Of course, can't say I recall reading about someone asking, either. Also, Mayor Jackson won every ward except for the 1st, and he lost only by a 100 votes or so. That said, I expect that the 1st Ward will push back considerably on these plans. For example, Montclair Sate's Master Plan has growth of 20,000 more (on campus & commuter) students on the North end. The Township is facilitating a 25% density increase around the U Montclair train station. And once someone explains to the 2nd Ward that North Mountain will become the new Valley Rd, I imagine they might push back, too. Do you think the PB will take this up before, during or after the budget process?


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