The second community meeting to solicit comments from the public for a redevelopment plan for the Maplewood Village Post Office site was less contentious than the first meeting, but residents still voiced strong opinions.
A major concern expressed by several participants was that additional housing units in the Village would further exacerbate an already difficult parking and traffic situation in the downtown.
Another concern was that a ground floor retail development with two or three floors of residential units above — for a height of 40 feet in the front and 50 feet in the rear — would be too large in scale for the character of the Village.
Both the mayor and a consultant for the project said that nothing was yet set in stone and comments would be considered in formulating a draft redevelopment plan.
During his initial presentation about possible ideas for developing the site, Paul Grygiel of Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC used examples such as The Avenue in South Orange, Cranford Crossing and a Hoboken residential development to illustrate elements of a potential development in Maplewood Village.
Local architect Inda Sechzer said she felt the scale of the buildings shown were "a larger scale than we would want for Maplewood. Those are much more urban areas." Another resident was concerned that the new development would be the size of The Avenue in South Orange, calling the large scale of that development "awful."
"That's good to know," said Grygiel. "We are looking at that." Grygiel also said he had used the examples from Hoboken and Cranford to talk about breaking up space and use of materials — not necessarily as models for scale.
Another attendee volunteered that the area being considered was the highest point in the Village "so a development wil look even larger." He suggested using "visual clues" to reduce the look of the size and mass of the structure.
With regard to parking, some brought up the cost of building a garage as well as safety issues.
"What worries me is the apartments," said one man, "and these extra 50 cars. It's already impossible to get in and out and around on a Saturday in the Village."
Another resident worried that overflow parking from residents who had more than one car would end up taking up retail parking spaces in the Village.
Closely related to parking issues were circulation concerns. "Just last week it took me five minutes to get across the street," said a resident. "It's always a problem, but it could really be a big problem."
While many were excited by the idea of extending the street wall along Maplewood Avenue — creating perhaps a more narrow "mews" and outdoor dining options between the new development and Village Coffee — one commenter noted that the town should think about egress out of the parking lot behind the coffee shop down to Baker Street.
"Look at the corner of Baker and Maplewood Avenue. It's a bad corner for circulation."
Many more comments were made — from a suggestion to extend the sidewalk behind the development and create a continous bike path, to suggestions that office use be considered in place of or in addition to residential. Others asked that the town hold a design contest for the site before releasing a request for proposals to developers.
Consultant Paul Phillips said that the plan could indeed be open to office uses. "The best we can do is be permissive." He said, "We are hearing, 'Let's get a diversity of uses.'"
The next steps, said Grygiel, would be for the consultant to create a draft redevelopment plan — incorporating comments and working with town leaders. He said that a third community meeting would be held but was not yet scheduled.
Mayor Vic DeLuca noted that, even after the draft plan and third meeting, there would still be a series of public meetings concerning the redevelopment plan as it was introduced at a Township Committee, then at the Planning Board, and then sent back to the Township Committee.
DeLuca said he hoped to have a plan finalized by this time next year in order to release an RFP and perhaps have a developer selected by the time the post office lease expires in November 2013.