An indoor winter garden. Windows that don’t look “cheap.” Input by local architects into the design process.
And – no surprise -- more parking.
These are just some ideas residents and merchants have for the redevelopment of Maplewood’s “crown jewel” property, the Post Office site. The comments came at a public forum on Tuesday night at Town Hall, where roughly 40 people came to hear Mayor Vic DeLuca, members of the Township Committee (TC) and planner Paul Grygiel describe the current status of the Post Office Plan.
The most recent version of the plan can be found on the township website.
John Harvey, a co-founder of Engage-Maplewood, called the presentation a good “first step.” However, he said officials needed to be more proactive in disseminating information and to provide design models so people could see what a potential building might look like.
"Engage feels there is more work to do to grow an informed public that can participate effectively now, and throughout the developer selection process," said Dave Helmkamp in an email to Patch.
Other suggestions and concerns ranged from tightening up permitted building materials to how to create usable public space; from worries about construction disrupting the Village’s businesses, to pleas to not “leave the design to the developers.”
In the end, the TC agreed to incorporate some of the ideas into the plan, which will be modified again and sent back to the planning board and the TC before the final vote on July 16. The Maplewood Village Alliance (MVA) will have to weigh in before a plan is approved.
DeLuca said discussions on how to better utilize this prime train side property date back to 1997, when the township first began discussing relocating the industrial mail sorting facility and replacing it with a mixed-use building more appropriate to the location.
The town owns the land and leases it to a corporation, said DeLuca, which in turn leases it to the post office. Those leases all end in November, at which point the township will own the building and the land. (DeLuca said the township still has not heard from Post Office officials about their relocation plans.)
The plan addresses market realities, said Grygiel. “We’ve heard a lot of ideas that would be wonderful if they could be built in terms of financing or a market for them…What’s allowed for in this plan makes the most sense.”
DeLuca said that while officials has been in discussions with and will seek a developer with that in mind, the township itself is not in a position to directly negotiate with Kings. (If Kings does not move in, the plan allows for the possibility for other retail uses.)
As for parking, the number of public spaces will be maintained, DeLuca said. If a developer builds apartments (something the town has said it would like), it must create 1 to 1.5 spaces per dwelling – with a maximum of 25 apartments. Those spots would likely be contained in a parking structure within the building.
Felice Londa, a Woodland Road resident, said the committee was being too “optimistic” that there would be sufficient parking for residents of the new apartments, without it leading to overflow parking at the Woman’s Club and more congestion on neighboring streets.
“If you’re going to permit overnight and weekend parking in the Woman’s Club lot, you will have a significant parking problem,” she said.
A resident asked how the town will benefit financially from the sale in terms of revenue. DeLuca said the Post Office doesn’t pay property taxes (it pays a rental fee). Once the property is occupied, the new tenant(s) will pay property taxes.
Several commenters brought up the Station House development on Dunnell Road, the old police station site, as a cautionary tale of development gone wrong.
Victor Gallo asked if the township could more clearly specify (and prohibit) certain design materials. He said he thought the Station House used materials and design features that looked “fake,” such as false balconies and cheap windows.
Inda Sechzer, a local architect, agreed, calling the Station House a “fiasco” and a “disappointment.” She asked if the township could stipulate that a developer work with local architects on design elements. DeLuca said the TC has asked the MVA to include architects in the process.
Sechzer recommended adding a “winter garden” in the plan, to provide usable public space in cold weather. She also said a larger Kings would be too big for the space and suggested that Kings go to the lower level of the building that would face Village Coffee, as opposed to occupying the street front on Maplewood Avenue.
“There’s a lot that’s being asked of prospective developers here,” cautioned Grygiel. “At some point it becomes too much to make the project workable from a developer’s point of view…There’s only so far you can push before the developer walks away or bids lower.”
Krista Hyer, longtime merchant and owner of Mona Lisa Framing, she said she was worried about how the construction process – which will last more than a year – will impact Village businesses. “We have dedicated our lives to our businesses,” she said.
Striking a nostalgic chord, Hyer reminisced about riding her bike in town as a child and expressed sadness and trepidation about how the new development will permanently alter the character of the Village.
John Dilley, who with his wife Eileen has owned Bee & Thistle for 40 years, lamented the Village’s gradual transition from a retail destination to a “food court.” He also said the township should be more proactive in ticketing merchants who don’t follow parking time limits and play “musical chairs” with parking spots.
Township committeeman Jerry Ryan said he is confident that the township will be able to quickly respond to any problems that arise during construction.
Stacy Brodsky, another Woodland Road resident, said parking was a problem that the township wasn’t addressing, to the detriment of small businesses.
“For 16 years [merchants] have been asking you to address the parking issue,” she said. “What are you going to do about [it]?”