The Maplewood Township Committee voted to enter an escrow agreement with L&M Development Partners of Larchmont, NY, Tuesday, after hours of public comment.
L&M was selected from a pool of eight developers and was recommended to the Committee by The Maplewood Township Committee’s Economic Development Committee in December.
A preliminary layout includes street level retail space suitable for Kings Supermarket, currently located across Maplewood Ave., a ground floor level of retail spaces, and 25 apartments above. The US Postal Service is considering 1830 Springfield Avenue as a possible property for relocation, the township previously stated on its website.
The Municipal Chambers were filled to the brim with residents, Tuesday, many of which were members of Engage Maplewood, a local opposition group that formed in May 2013 in response to the Post Office redevelopment plan. The group created both written and online petitions with more than 500 signatures, calling for more transparency and urging the the Township Committee to stay the vote.
“I'm not totally against any change,” said Glen Sussman, a local merchant since 1976. “I see progress as something beneficial to the community. However, there are so many problems that existed in '76 that I still see in this town.”
Many residents echoed the same concerns over parking and changing the dynamic of the downtown.
“There are few places in the United States where there is a sense of place,” said resident Jeremiah Birnbaum. “We meet all the criteria to become a nationally historic town. We should designate our downtown as a historic district.”
“I love this town and I'm very afraid for its future right now,” he added. “This building will hide the view of the mountain and you will be able to see it from everywhere in town. This is a historic town and needs to be treated like a historic town.”
Ultimately, the Maplewood Township Committee unanimously voted in favor of the resolution to designate L&M, but the pleas from the public did not fall on deaf ears.
“This is a very important project and may be the most important property in Maplewood,” said Mayor Victor De Luca. “We have all those same concerns and there is no room for mistake.”
“We have letters dating back to 1997 from the Township informing the Post Office we will not be renewing their lease in 2013 because we want something of a higher use than the Post Office. Mail handling is not necessarily the best use for our downtown area,” he added. “This has been a long conversation but it is not over tonight.”
According to Township Attorney Roger Desiderio, the process is still in its beginning stages and is far from over. All the resolution does, he said, is allow the Committee to enter into an escrow agreement for the purposes of negotiations with the developer. The design will be subject to approval from both the Maplewood Township Committee as well as the Planning Board.
“We need to take this step so we can get to the next phase, which will include a lot more input, we can make more stuff public now, and we can have a more focused and detailed conversation to get this to a project we can all agree on,” said De Luca.