CLIFTON — After more than three years of back-and-forth, the Planning Board has approved revised plans for a new hotel and parking garage adjacent to a catering hall on Valley Road.
Meridia Regency on Valley’s application was approved by a 6-1 vote and against the wishes of the residents of nearby McCosh Road.
The application calls for a hotel to be constructed adjacent to the existing Valley Regency, previously the Robin Hood Inn, where Montclair songwriter Herman Hupfeld composed “As Time Goes By,” a song made famous by the movie “Casablanca.”
Meridia Regency’s plans call for a four-story hotel and parking garage, a plan denied by the Planning Board two years ago.
“The use is allowed,” said Planning Board member Nick Villano, a licensed engineer and city manager. “We are trying to make a case where there is none.”
The original application called for a six-story, 102-room hotel with underground parking on 5 acres. The updated plan, approved earlier this month, allows for a 57-foot-high hotel with 120 rooms. It will have four stories above ground and one below, with a parking garage.
The changes also call for fewer trees to be removed and fewer, smaller retaining walls.
Residents who have fought the project since it was proposed more than three years ago said the hotel and garage will hurt their quality of life.
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Because McCosh Road is down a steep hill from Valley Road, the hotel will loom over their homes, residents said. The existing catering hall is already noisy, and they said the new hotel and garage will exacerbate the noise.
Residents also spoke out against the original height and length of the proposed retaining walls and the need to cut many of the trees now offering a buffer between them and the business. They said removing the trees would further erode their privacy.
The applicant promised to plant new trees, but residents said they will take many years to mature into the size of the trees at the site now.
In 2019, McCosh residents were given a brief, narrow victory when the board voted 5-4 against the application.
Commissioner Philip Binaso cast the only no vote on the revised proposal. He said the June 2020 meeting where the settlement was discussed violated Open Public Meetings Act rules.
He said the Planning Board, after discussing the litigation behind closed doors, did not publicly hold a formal vote, as required under the meeting rules.
“I believe the June meeting that extended past midnight was illegal,” Binaso said. “I believe the judge did not hear the full and complete story.”
Binaso and the neighbors wanted the application extended into next year before a vote was held, but the applicant’s attorney Jason Tuvel pressed the board for a decision.
“I will make this simple. I am not extending time,” Tuvel told the board.
Board members said the applicant had done much to try to address the residents’ concerns by moving the location of the hotel to the northern edge of the property to allow for more of a setback and opted against a planned expansion of the catering hall. .
Board Chair Susan Kolodziej, who initially voted against the proposal, said Meridia’s revised plan for the hotel addressed many of her initial concerns.
“I felt we did our job,” she said. “I am following the letter of the law.”
Area residents, who were led by their neighbor and former mayor, Jerry Zecker, said they are weighing their options on whether to appeal this decision.
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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