PB Meeting Minutes 08-26-19

Call to Order

Chair Wynn called the meeting to order at 7:35 pm and announced that the meeting has been properly noticed in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act and that the meeting is being recorded and can be viewed on the Township website or on Channel 34. 

Roll Call

Chair Wynn, Mr. Schwartz, Councilor Schlager, Ms. Willis, Mr. Cook, Mr. Rooney, Mr. Ianuale, Ms. Loughman and Mr. Gilmer were present.   Vice Chair Brodock and Mr. Barr were excused.  Board Attorney Arthur Neiss, Board Engineer Joseph Vuich and Planning Director Janice Talley were also present.  


A motion to approve the minutes from the August 12, 2019 meeting as amended was made by Mr. Schwartz, seconded by Chair Wynn and approved unanimously with Ms. Schlager abstaining.

Resolution Application 2566:  59 Glenridge Avenue, LLC – 59 Glenridge Avenue (Block 4210, Lot 23)

A motion to approve the resolution was made by Mr. Rooney, seconded by Ms. Loughman and approved unanimously with Mr. Schwartz abstaining.

Application 2623:  Montclair Art Museum – 3 South Mountain Avenue (Block 1406, Lots 1 and 3)

The applicant was represented by Richard Schkolnick, Esq.   Mr. Schkolnick explained that the application is to make site improvements to the museum property.  He noted that the museum is in the RO(a) zone district and that the only variance is for the height of an architectural retaining wall.

Lora Urbanelli, the Executive Director of the Montclair Art Museum, was sworn in.  Ms. Urbanelli stated the intent of the project is to improve the grounds to enhance the art experience at the museum by creating an Art Park outside the museum that matches the quality of the art in the interior of the museum.  She noted how the museum has evolved since it first opened in 1914.  The proposal will turn the steep rear yard into an accessible and usable green.  The reflecting pond that is proposed in front of the museum will provide an appropriate setting for a new iconic sculpture.  The sculpture at the main entrance, Sun Vow, was donated by a museum founder.  It has been in its current site since the museum opened in 1914 but will be relocated to an area where it will be more accessible.  She was unable to state at this time where Sun Vow will be located.

The Board asked about the extent of community involvement in the preparation of the plan and whether the history of the museum was considered.  Ms. Urbanelli explained that the Museum Board of Trustees, which consists of over 40 people, is largely comprised of Montclair residents.  In addition, residents with a special interest in facilities planning were also included in the process.  She noted that the history of the museum was a strong component in the preparation of the landscape plan.  She stated that a historical preservation consultant was not engaged.

The Board asked if the sculptures proposed for the Art Park will be permanent.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that while some of the sculptures would be movable, none of them are truly permanent.  She stated that the existing sculptures on the property will be relocated, noting that the museum has thousands of works of art that change every year as curators develop different exhibits.

The Board asked if the project will increase the number of visitors to the museum.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that the landscape improvements are not intended to increase the number of patrons to the museum, but rather to improve the art experience while also providing an accessible public park where people can relax and enjoy the art without paying a fee.

The Board asked about the state of the arboretum designed by Howard Van Vleck.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that much of the arboretum was removed with the expansion of the museum and that many of the original trees are in poor condition. 

The public was invited to ask questions.  A member of the public asked if the archives were reviewed to identify any instructions regarding the Sun Vow sculpture.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that the archives were thoroughly reviewed by the curatorial staff.  A question was posed as to how the new sculpture in the reflecting pool will be more accessible than the Sun Vow and whether the cultural landscape will be protected.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that the new sculpture will be lower, at eye level and that the overall design is respectful of the Museum’s history.  A question was asked about how the impacts identified at a community meeting will be addressed.  Mr. Schkolnick responded that a parking study is not required as there is no increase in traffic and Ms. Urbanelli responded that the project is not intended to attract large numbers of new people to the site. 

More details were requested about how the cultural landscape will be protected in the front of the museum.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that improving accessibility to and around the museum grounds is a top priority for the museum and is a requirement for many grants.  She emphasized the museum’s need to evolve with the times.  A question was asked if the Sun Vow statue can be placed in the new reflecting pool.  Ms. Urbanelli responded that it is not the location desired by the museum.

Mr. Schkolnick introduced Paul Sionas, the landscape architect for the project, who was sworn in.  Mr. Sionas noted that the landscape plan is consistent with the history of the museum and presented in early rendering of the museum which showed a reflecting pool in front of the museum entrance.    He stated that Howard Van Vleck designed much of the landscaping around the museum between 1940 and 1970, but many of the plantings were non-native.  Landscape design theory has evolved and today is focused on native plantings.  One member of the Board objected to the statement that the landscape plan is consistent with the history of the museum.  She noted that the intent of the original arboretum was to showcase plantings from around the world.  This intent should be honored by considering a variety of tree species, not just those native to New Jersey.

Mr. Sionas stated that the museum underwent a major expansion in 2000 and many of the Van Vleck plantings were removed as part of this expansion.  Sionas Architecture was hired in 2017 to design a plan to make the exterior of the museum barrier free and create an art park for public enjoyment.  In preparing the plan, he reviewed a report prepared by an arborist in 2013 that evaluated the health of the trees on the property.  He noted that the Van Vleck Arboretum is no longer active on the property.

Mr. Sionas presented the landscape plan, noting that nine healthy trees in the proposed plaza will be relocated on the site and eight trees will be removed.  Mr. Sionas reviewed the lighting plan and stated that the hardscape materials will be colored concrete and stone, with the finishes will be finalized pending review by the Board.  The water wall and base of the reflecting pool will be granite.  The fencing will be a 3 foot, 8-inch tall cable rail fence.

The Board requested that the reflecting pool area be wheelchair accessible.

The public was invited to question Mr. Sionas.  A question was posed to determine if the Arboretum which was officially created in 1988 is still in existence.  Mr. Sionas responded that it was dissolved in 2000 with the addition to the museum.  Another question was raised about how the water feature will appear in winter.  Mr. Sionas stated that the water will be turned off in winter, but that the granite wall and reflecting pool base will still be attractive.  Finally, a question was posed about whether the Arboretum is part of the museum collection.  Mr. Sionas responded that it is not.

Mr. Schkolnick introduced Paul Anderson, PE., PP who was accepted and sworn in as a professional engineer and planner.  Mr. Anderson reviewed the grading and drainage plan for the project, noting that the new plan creates level areas that meet ADA requirements.  He stated that a variance is required because the combined retaining wall and fence is 15 feet, 6 inches tall and the maximum height is only 7 feet.  He stated that a second variance may be required because the fence is not setback from the wall as required by the Code.  He stated that the additional height is necessary to make the area fully accessible.

Chair Wynn stated that it is not clear from the plans what the fence and the wall will look like.  He requested additional details to show how the wall relates to the fence at the bottom.  Other Board members were concerned about safety along the proposed walls.  Mr. Anderson stated that he will prepare additional plan details as requested.

Mr. Anderson discussed the drainage plan.  Mr. Ianuale asked the applicant and its engineer and planner if green infrastructure would be considered for inclusion into the plan.  Mr. Ianuale indicated that although the plan presented addresses drainage in the areas of disturbance, there are large areas of impervious surface from which water could be redirected for use in irrigation for the new or existing plantings and lawn area and the new reflecting pool and water wall features. 

Mr. Anderson stated that the variance for the retaining wall is a c(2) variance.  The wall will have limited visibility because it is an interior wall that will not be visible to the south, north or west.  The wall’s visibility from St. Luke’s Place to the east is limited by distance (over 300 feet) and landscaping.   He further noted that the wall is designed as an attractive architectural feature.  He stated that the fence on top of the wall is a safety feature and that the proposed landscaping will hide the fence. 

Mr. Anderson stated that the museum is an inherently beneficial use that serves as a public asset and benefit to the community and meets the positive criteria for a c(2) variance.  The project is consistent with the Master Plan which promotes the arts as a desirable land use and economic asset for the Township.  Further, the improvements create a high-quality, accessible art space. Mr. Anderson concluded that the variance promotes purpose of planning (i) to promote a desirable visual environment and that there is no detriment to the Master Plan, zone plan or neighborhood created by the deviation. 

The Board carried the application to the September 23 meeting with no further notice required.

Mr. Schwartz stated that he has a conflict with the next application and left the meeting.

Application 2627: Andrew Moldovan – 15-17 Hawthorne Place (Block 3109, Lot 13)

The applicant represented himself and was sworn in.  Mr. Moldovan stated that he owns the 3-family house which contains one 2-bedroom, one 3-bedroom and one 4-bedroom apartment.  The parking onsite is insufficient, with only a driveway along the west side of the house and a small parking area provided in front of the house.  The proposal is to extend the driveway to the rear yard and provide parking in the rear yard for six vehicles.  The parking in front of the house will be eliminated and the front lawn area extended about 3 feet.  The parking area will be comprised of pervious pavers and will be surrounded by a solid wooden fence.    One pine tree will need to be removed to provide for the extension of the driveway.

The Board questioned Mr. Moldovan about lighting.  He stated that motion lights are provided to illuminate the parking area.  The Board asked if the apartments can be accessed from the rear.  Mr. Moldovan responded that all three apartments an be accessed from the rear door.  The Board asked that he parking spaces be striped and stated that the compact spaces need to be delineated with pavement markings.

The Board asked about the plastic pipe along the side of the driveway.  Mr. Moldovan stated that the pipe drains the water from the leader in front of the house.  Mr. Vuich requested a drainage plan that either proposes a seepage pit in the front yard or a drainage pipe to the rear yard.

The public was invited to ask questions.   A neighbor was concerned about the loss of greenery as rear yards are converted to parking lots and the possible damage to a tree on her property from the new pavement proposed on the subject property.  Another neighbor expressed concern about lighting. The Board assured the neighbor that they would require any lighting to be shielded. 

A motion to approve the application was made by Chair Wynn with the following conditions:   a drainage plan must be submitted; lighting must be shielded and a motion-detector light provided to illuminate the driveway; board-on-board fencing be provided on all three sides around the parking lot; existing shrubbery be retained at the edge of the parking lot; no parking be permitted in the front yard; and the driveway be extended where it meets the parking area. The motion was seconded by Ms. Loughman and approved with Chair Wynn, Mr. Cook, Councilor Schlager, Ms. Willis, Mr. Rooney, Ms. Loughman and Mr. Gilmer voting in favor and Mr. Ianuale opposed.

Council Referral of Ordinance 19-030

Ms. Talley stated that the Council introduced an ordinance on August 20th that was the same as the ordinance proposed by the Planning Board with one exception.  The exception had to do with the definition of average front yard setback.  Ms. Talley stated that the Township’s current definition of average front yard setback has worked very well, providing the flexibility necessary to ensure that front yard setbacks for new development are consistent with adjacent properties.  The Board recommended that the definition either remain unchanged or be revised to state that average front yard setbacks shall be calculated using the front yard setbacks of the three nearest principal structures on both sides of the subject property on the same street and within the same block and zoning district.  Ms. Talley stated that she would prepare a report to the Council with the recommended change.

Payment of Bills

A motion to pay bills was made by Chair Wynn, seconded by Councilor Schlager and approved unanimously. 


The meeting was adjourned at 11:15 pm.