Letter To The Editor: Reconsider Conditional Use Of Self Storage Facility In Redevelopment Plan

letter to the editorThe following is a Letter to the Editor sent by Maggie Joralemon, a Portland Place, Montclair resident:

I ask Mayor Jackson, Sean Spiller, Janice Talley the members of the Planning Board, to reconsider the conditional use of the self-storage facility proposed for lot 2209 in Phase Two of the Redevelopment Plan. I am fully aware that the viability of the entire plan is dependent upon a financial relationship between the developer and the township. Given that, I reiterate that a 60,000 sq ft. self- storage facility in its proposed location is incongruent with the stated goals of the Master Plan– “to increase pedestrian traffic and reduce dependency on solo automobile trips.” It does not represent a “graceful transition” into the Portland Place neighborhood. The fact that the self-storage is the desire of the developer has been stated publicly. The Planning Board itself has even asked if the proposed storage structure could be repurposed in the future.

Please refer to the traffic projections offered by the parking consultant for the proposed 60,000 square foot self storage on lot 2209. At face value, trips for self-storage appear low compared to other businesses. Even without context, location or comparables to interpret the figures, the data indicates that 140 trips would be generated daily, with entrance from Valley Road and egress onto Portland Place. That means 140 automobiles vans, pick-up trucks, and box trucks, in addition to the traffic from the parking deck, in and out of the same parcel. What is referred to as ‘gate hours’ of the typical self- storage is 6 am to 9 pm seven days a week. The self-storage would be far from a ‘graceful transition’ into our neighborhood.

portland place 1

While the data provides a quantitative measure without variables, it lacks the qualitative value and input of the communities where such uses are located.

  • The average size of a self-storage facility is 50,000 sq.ft. as opposed to the 60,000 sq ft. proposed by the developer. A 60,000 sq. ft. structure is too massive for this location. In fact, the facility would require space in excess to the 60,000 sq. ft. for the office, reception area and parking areas for patrons. Taking into account these additional operational requirements, the facility in it’s entirety would exceed 60,000sq ft. Mr. Smith may be able to provide you the total square footage required.
  • The proposed parking deck of three stories, with the placement of the two additional levels of two stories each of self-storage equals a seven story structure. Our local ordinance prohibits more than six stories on new construction. 3+2+2=7 See attached sky exposure plane.

portland place 2

  • Egress of vehicles onto Portland Place would occur 20 to 30 feet from the intersection of Portland Place and Valley Road. That egress would be located 20 feet from the residence at 67 Valley Road, 30 feet from the three family residence at 71 Portland Place, 35-40 feet from the residence/meeting hall known as the former Masonic Lodge at 69 Portland Place, 50-60 feet from the single family residence at 67 Portland Place and 60 to 70 feet from my single family residence at 65 Portland Place. Truck egress onto our block will have a negative impact upon our quality of life and add traffic congestion to the entire area. The projected 140 trips daily and 15 trips per evening is unacceptable any neighborhood. Residents have consistently opposed egress onto Portland Place.
  • Self-storage effects on the quality of life — headlights directed into the north side of the street, noise that includes, honking, reverse beeping, lift motors, idling of engines, fumes, trash, dumping of unwanted items and security risks. Larger units necessitate larger vehicles, and smaller units would translate into MORE units and MORE traffic. Seven days a week.
  • This plan would create additional truck traffic in the intersection of Valley Road and Bloomfield Avenue. This intersection has been described in a Montclair Times article as the most dangerous intersection in Montclair. It will only grow more congested with occupancy of the apartments, full use of the Orange Road deck, and the proposed hotel. More truck traffic makes this intersection even less pedestrian friendly that it was before. Try the crossing yourself.
  • With the needed left turn restriction of truck traffic onto Valley Road from Portland Place, trucks would have to proceed right and loop through the residential neighborhoods on Valley, Montague, Claremont, and onto Bell St. and Park Avenue for access east onto Bloomfield Avenue, creating a ripple effect of truck traffic. There has been some discussion of a remedy to this situation, however, we need to see a clear proposal.
  • With the recent left turn prohibition from Midland Avenue onto Bloomfield Avenue, all traffic, including trucks, has increased along Portland Place. Again , right turns would loop traffic through residential neighborhoods.
  • A traffic study is needed to include the impact of 590 spaces in the Orange deck, and the proposed 190-200 spaces in the Portland deck. Then, a study would be needed to include the undetermined number of spaces to be added to the Maple lot, and the “140 daily trips” of the self-storage.
  • An analysis of the effect of self-storage on residential property values is unavailable because these facilities are generally not located in residential neighborhoods. I do not want those of us who have worked so hard to revitalize and maintain our neighborhood be a test case for how property values are lowered by proximity to self –storage and the activity associated with it.
  • Are there examples of existing parking decks that support a 60,000sq ft. structure built on top of them in a suburban community? Using air space above a parking garage is aesthetically unappealing to the existing residences that would face it and to the proposed townhomes that would be both beneath it and abutting the parking garage. Again, “lipstick on a pig”.

Many concur that Montclair center never needed or asked for a self-storage facility. While a needs -assessment may find that Montclair does lack a self-storage, it does not belong in this location. Those justifying this and any other kind of overdevelopment in our town may well be proven wrong over time. Atlantic City provides an example of broken promises to a community that now must deal with massive empty structures that pose risks to residents. The Edgewater fires of the last few years send up a huge red flag over planning, construction and oversight.

Montclair is not an urban community that requires urban solutions to storage of possessions. Montclair is a suburban community with a main central corridor and many smaller business districts throughout. Portland Place is a neighborhood that delineates the business district from the residential blocks to the north—and remains a block of restored owner occupied residences. To place an urban type storage area in our historic neighborhood would be a tragic mistake. A parking deck is sufficient for one neighborhood. Surely developers find it lucrative and the township finds economic benefit as well from the arrangement, yet it may be a decision that the township will regret long after the developers have moved on to other projects.

There are better uses for this space, uses that can utilize the parking garage. An immediate care medical facility or other medical offices would be a more appropriate use of the space on block 2209. As of right now, the closest immediate medical care facilities are First Care on Pompton Avenue in Verona and Bloomfield Immedicenter on Broad Street. It would be an amenity and a convenience to those within walking distance as well as for those needing parking.

Another option would be to construct more townhomes that do not exceed the size and height of our homes and reflect the Victorian style of our homes on the north side of Portland Place. There is no justification to match the bulk on the other side of the avenue other than financial profit. Do we have the benefit of an economic analysis for this plan before it is pushed through regardless of doubts and concerns we all have?

Surely any business that could make use of the proposed parking deck is preferable to a business that invites truck traffic onto our streets and in to our neighborhoods.

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