As a group committed to addressing the climate crisis, Montclair Climate Action wants to highlight, in public debate, the potential strong climate and environmental benefits of the proposed Lackawanna Plaza development. While we recognize that other issues need to be considered in evaluating the redevelopment plan, we believe that environmental impacts, and especially climate impacts, should be an important part of the discussion, given the severity of the ongoing climate crisis. In that context, the proposed redevelopment plan includes numerous proposals that are key to helping us address climate change, including green infrastructure, dense housing, promotion of active mobility, and electrification of transportation. In addition, the developer’s proposed adherence to the Living Building Challenge can make the development, and Montclair, a model for Green building. We hope and expect all of these will be in the final, revised redevelopment plan.
At the same time, these benefits cannot be realized without strong oversight from the township government. The town council and government must follow up on approval of any development with strong oversight once development begins, with clear accountability to ensure adherence to the plan.
Green infrastructure: Extreme weather and the accompanying threat of flooding is likely to be one of the most prominent effects of climate change that will directly affect Montclair. Already, extreme rainfall events are more common in New Jersey, and we have experienced the direct effects of flooding and extreme weather in Montclair.
Many elements to address this are in the redevelopment proposal or have been raised by the developer himself. These include:
- Green space/open space
- Permeable paving
- Green roofs and purple roofs
- An on-site water capture system
Given that virtually the entire site is currently paved, any or all of these would be improvements over the existing situation, and suggest that, done right, this project could have benefits in helping Montclair adapt to the effects of climate change, and long term will save the town climate adaptation costs in the future. Given its proximity to a flood zone, getting this right is crucial.
Density: Promoting density is widely regarded as a key way to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s body of climate experts, in its report on how to mitigate climate change, specifically highlights “infilling and densifying urban areas” as one key policy for cities to adopt. Cities should, they write, “prioritise compact and mixed-use neighbourhoods” and they go so far as to say that, “Among mitigation options…urban infill and densification has priority.” For that reason, Montclair Climate Action supports the proposal to bring denser housing to Montclair, as part of an overall climate change strategy. We hope that the environmental benefits of density as a key climate policy will be recognized and accepted as part of the conversation around the redevelopment plan.
Active mobility infrastructure: Promotion of active mobility (biking and walking) is another key climate change policy that cities and towns need to pursue if we are going to address the climate crisis. Reducing vehicle miles traveled, i.e., reducing car use, is an important way to reduce heat-trapping pollution, and the IPCC has specifically advocated for more active mobility in its most recent report.
The proposed redevelopment plan, in this regard, is an improvement over previous efforts. Previous proposals were ringed with parking, and were not designed to integrate into a pedestrian landscape. The current redevelopment plan does, on the other hand, propose numerous elements which can facilitate biking and walking, including:
- Public open space
- Putting shops and offices, rather than parking lots, along street fronts
- Traffic calming measure such as bumpouts and enhanced crosswalks
- Indoor bicycle racks for residents, as well as outdoor bicycle racks for all users
- New/widened sidewalks
- Street furniture and other places for pedestrians to sit
- A bike lane along Glenridge Avenue, connecting to the new Essex Hudson Greenway
For all these reasons, and if the township holds the developer to what is in the redevelopment plan, the development has the possibility of promoting active mobility in Montclair, and forming a key part of Montclair’s climate strategy.
Additionally with regard to transportation, there has been much concern about traffic raised in conversations about the development. Getting cars off the road is the best way to address traffic; it is also a key way to address the climate crisis. For that reason, we believe that any adjustments to street infrastructure to address traffic concerns should be made in such a way as to facilitate active mobility by incorporating biking and walking infrastructure, and not just be oriented around keeping cars moving. These changes need not and should not be limited to the proposed bike lane along Glenridge Avenue but can also be incorporated into Grove and other streets. In addition, traffic concerns for nearby side streets should be addressed through techniques to prevent cars from doing “rat running,” including traffic calming, barriers, and other best-practices, designed in consultation with residents of the impacted streets.
Electrification: If we are going to address the climate crisis, we must stop burning fossil fuels and instead “electrify everything.” The proposed development has the potential to contribute to this process of electrification, through the inclusion of electric car charging stations and “charger ready” parking.
To facilitate electrification, we urge the council to consider a requirement of “Net Zero ready” in the redevelopment plan.
Living Building Challenge: Finally the developer has spoken of his intention to build in accordance with the Living Building Challenge (LBC). These standards are admirable, and include such things as:
- Buildings which produce more energy than the consume
- Buildings that use only water harvested on-site
- Use of building materials that minimize environmental impacts
- Consideration of impacts on neighboring buildings
- Promotion of beauty
The developer has spoken of his desire to make the proposed Building C fully compliant with the standards of the LBC. If that were to happen, it would be only one of a relatively small number of such buildings in the country, and would make the township a model for environmental building–even a destination.
For that reason, we hope that the redevelopment plan will both facilitate, and to the degree possible require, the construction of a building that meets the LBC standards, in accordance with the developer’s stated intentions.
Conclusion: Overall, from a climate change perspective, the proposed redevelopment plan has much in it that is very positive – both in seeking to limit it, and in terms of addressing its impacts. At the same time, we note that these positive possibilities can only be realized if the township explicitly incorporates these expectations into the development plan, and also holds the developer to those standards – standards which he himself has said he supports. We believe that the township, in making its proposal, must take into account the need to design the plan to help accommodate these goals, including in matters of number of units. We also believe that the developer must work in good faith with the council to include these elements both in the plan and in the actual building, in accordance with his own stated intentions.