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Parking, Scale Are Concerns at Post Office Meeting

Residents voiced opinions about a possible mixed-use development at the site of the Maplewood Village Post Office.

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 , 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.

Clawson Architects, LLC March 01, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Thanks for the coverage Mary! I love the Bolded to the point title: Parking & Scale! That is what it is all about! Every professional planning meeting I have ever attended uses Maplewood as an example of greatness with it's ratio of open parks and development and scale with great access to the train. We hear/heard all the time what a "cute town", "the village is so cute--that's why we moved here". No one ever describes Hoboken or Brooklyn or South Orange as "Cute". I believe "cute" refers to Scale. As we look at the re-development we need to consider the Cuteness Factor and embrace it and exploit it....start looking at charming towns like Stockbridge, Mass. Bigger and more is just that bigger and more NOT Better.
Mary Mann March 01, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Jamie Ross also recorded the entire meeting on video. You can watch it on MOL: http://forum.maplewoodonline.com/vc/discussion/80062/second-meeting-on-the-redevelopment-of-the-post-office-site
David Frazer March 01, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I don't have any idea what the market would support, offices, houses or some combination thereof. But, for those folks opposed to more housing, I ask: where are we supposed to build new housing for people to live? The population is going to grow no matter what we do. Those new people are going to need a place to live. It seems to me we have two general options: we can make already developed areas somewhat denser or we can expand sprawl and the American car culture further out into rural areas. Simply from an environmental/global warming perspective, the former is a no brainer, especially for a "green" community. People have to realize when we refuse to build housing, it gets built somewhere else. The cost of keeping Maplewood "cute" is, frankly, more sprawl, more pollution and more global warming. If, in the age of global warming, we're not going to build [relatively] dense housing immediately adjacent to public transportation and commercial amenities [thereby greatly reducing reliance on the automobile], I ask again: where are we going to build it?
Ross Perot April 06, 2012 at 04:41 AM
The economic and environmental sustainability of Maplewood is at stake here in a powerful way. On the environmental side, the Village already attempted to build a premier LEED police station only to find out that LEED was probably not the best way to go since the building cost so much to build, is not walkable, and doesn't seem to be terribly energy efficient. So now what to do with one of the best apartment sites in NJ because of its proximity to a great NJ Transit stop and a charming downtown, an investment that would pay nice dividends in terms of property taxes or PILOT. God forbid it should be housing of scale! It would ruin our quaint town! Or would it? It certainly would be very environmentally responsible to put housing here. But does Maplewood have the courage to set aside its bogeyman fears and do what is right financially and right environmentally? I see a lot of liberal instincts in this town but a lot of conservative talk and I think, in the end, the Village will miss out on a great opportunity for a win-win unless we get the other side of the coin represented at these meetings.

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