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Montclair Township Planning Board Puts 'MC Hotel' Plans on Hold to Address Aesthetics

Natalie Heard Hackett

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 • 7:25am

MONTCLAIR, NJ – In a well-attended planning board meeting, one application was heard.  Application 2374, HP Orange 2013 Urban Renewal, LLC, which is the site plan for the 148-room MC Hotel. The other application 2376 for Montclair Loft Partners, LLC was postponed until the Aug. 11 meeting.

In a continuation of the application of the hearing from HP Orange 2013 Urban Renewal, LLC, an attorney, Thomas J. Trautner Jr. from Wolff & Samson, PC represented the applicant.

Since the last Planning Board meeting, the applicant had met with the Historic Preservation Commission to review concerns they had with the plan. The Planning Board has since received a letter from the Historic Preservation Commission making suggestions and comments that the applicant wishes to address.

Applicant Brian Stolar, founder and chief executive officer of the Pinnacle Companies, and other experts for the applicant came forward to provide testimony to the board. 

“We met with the Historical Preservation Commission and all commissioners agreed that there wasn’t any negative impact on the historic district,” Stolar said.  “It is part of the redevelopment district."    

When questioned about whether or not the halo makes the building a nine-story building, Stolar replied, “The overall design is supposed to be complimentary to the first phase. It follows the redevelopment plan."  He continued, "This is a welcoming gateway to Montclair. We wanted the public atrium and to make it as big as we could. It is an eight-story building with a rooftop bar amenity."

Other representatives from the Pinnacle Group, included the architect Michael Maturo; Reuben Twersky, vice-president of the Pinnacle Group; Kristen Sokich, vice-president of Propark America; Harold Maltz, traffic engineer expert and engineer George Kelley presented before the Planning Board the adjustments made to the plan based on the community and planning board concerns. 

Architect Michael Maturo presented via PowerPoint multiple versions of the hotel shown to the board. Maturo stated, "The intent was to relate to the scale and historic elements of the town."  Residents disagreed and spoke about the building not fitting in.

The versions Maturo presented included the set-backs from the street and the halo on the top floor of the hotel. Designs were also presented with and without the halo and explanation offered as to why the halo is significant to the design.

There had been much discussion from the community on the aesthetic look of the halo and the concern that the halo makes the structure into a ninth floor building.  Other topics reviewed were parking concerns when the hotel is at full capacity, the rear aesthetic of the building and traffic during peak school hours.

Wynn raised concerns about the rear of the building saying, "It's a two-story view that doesn't look attractive from that angle.  The parking garage looked more attractive."  "That's the facade that faces our neighborhood."

Willis added that people are concerned with the step-back feature on Orange Rd.  To which Stolar added that a mural will be painted at the developer's expense.

When George Kelley, from Langen Engineering and Consulting firm presented, new issues were raised regarding traffic.  A drawing was presented using a 40ft truck driving out into oncoming traffic.  Wynn then requested a new drawing that featured a 30ft truck, which reflects the standard truck size for deliveries.

Toward the end of the meeting, during the public comment portion, former Historic Preservation Commission chair, Ira Smith, spoke.  Smith, a Montclair resident who is an architect by profession and Principal with Smith Maran Architecture and Interiors, LLC, moved through the Pinnacle Group’s PowerPoint presentation as if it were his own, adding on key details that would make the MC Hotel blend more with the Montclair community architectural structure.  Smith opened saying, "Planning board guidelines call for it to fit the scale and character of the downtown."

Smith spent a significant amount of time maneuvering through the Pinnacle Companies' PowerPoint design suggesting usage of alternative materials and offering suggestions that would make the building blend more into the existing landscape and design of other buildings in the town.  Smith also addressed the public's concern about the rear-view of the building that became an issue of contention for many.  He suggested creating columns instead of a wall to break up the visual monotony of a wall and provide a see through design for alerting pedestrians and motorists of vehicles entering and exiting through the driveway.  

Smith concluded, "We're taking a project that is incomplete and making it better."  Smith's presentation seemed to address the public’s concerns about aesthetics, thus earning him an eruption of applause from the audience.  

In closing, Stolar, asked if an advisory committee could be formed to give feedback to his company on making the MC Hotel aesthetics to their liking.  Stolar added, "I respect opinions, but it is a little hard following the bouncing red ball.  In terms of getting guidance, can some members of the board meet with or assist us?"

Wynn said, "A subcommittee should be formed and Mr. Smith could come out of retirement and assist with improving the building.  There are valuable issues that have been raised we will certainly give it some thought."

It was decided toward the end of the meeting that Smith would join the committee, led by Martin Schwartz along with Chairman John Wynn and Stephen Rooney. Janice Talley, who was absent, would also be invited to join the committee. The committee plans to meet before the Aug. 11 Planning Board meeting.  

Planning Board meetings can be viewed here.  The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled to take place on Aug. 11.

 

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