Thursday night's third and final meeting on the future of the Maplewood Post Office held few surprises.
Unlike the previous two meetings, where residents and business owners expressed this meeting was a bit more subdued. Participants expressed concerns about a new development drawing more traffic, exacerbating the already strained parking situation, and impeding traffic flow in town.
(In 2010, the township informed the Post Office that its lease would be ending in 2013 and would not be renewed (the town owns the land). Additionally, the town declared the property as an area in need of rehabilitation in July 2011, paving the way for redevelopment. The Post Office will vacate the space in November of this year.)
Mayor Vic DeLuca and Paul Grygiel of the planning firm Phillips Preiss Grygiel led the meeting; Township Committeemen Jerry Ryan and Marlon K. Brownlee and Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal also were in attendance. Roughly 30 people were in the audience.
The Township's proposed redevelopment plan stipulates that any building will be consistent with a mixed use transit oriented development, be pedestrian friendly, similar in scale to others in town, and maintain existing public parking within reasonable walking distance. The plan also calls for maintaining a certain amount of open space.
Permitted uses include a bank, grocery store, restaurant or retail post office on the ground floor and a hotel, offices or apartments on top floors. The property could also be divided into multiple buildings, DeLuca said.
Some participants asked about the proposed 80 percent building coverage of the lot and wondered whether that was too large. DeLuca and Grygiel said they would take that into consideration.
Some residents wondered about maintaining and possibly improving the connection between the Memorial Park side of town and the Village business district; several brought up the south tunnel that leads from Dunnell Road to the back of the current Post Office and how that tunnel will be utilized.
"The tunnel is a way to funnel people to the glorious park," said Alison Blank, a founding member of the Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission (MPHC) and Maplewood Ave. resident. Blank said the tunnel could be used to encourage people to park at the train station on evenings on weekends.
DeLuca agreed, saying the tunnel could be widened or moved further south to create more of a connection to the Village. He said one stipulation for a developer is that the tunnel is maintained and that pedestrian flow is extended through to Ricalton Square.
Ryan asked if there could be pedestrian access behind the building. (The redevelopment area goes from the Village Coffee parking lot through part of the Ricalton Square parking lot, and also includes the pedestrian walkway strip behind the Post Office to the train station.)
Norman Scrivener, owner of Scrivener's Toys on Maplewood Avenue, was concerned about taking away the pedestrian walkway that currently exists from the tunnel behind the strip of stores between Village Coffee and Arturo's. DeLuca said the township would make changes to the crosswalks on Baker Street, "forcing" pedestrians to walk into the Village.
Virginia Kurshan of the MHPC asked if the township could specify certain materials be used in the building. DeLuca said that was a possibility. Another speaker said he was worried about "leaving the design to the developer."
The township has been in discussions with Kings Food Market about the possibility of them moving across the street to the post office site. DeLuca said Kings wants to remain in Maplewood but needs a larger space; the Post Office space would represent a net gain of around 3 - 4,000 square feet. He said the township would strongly encourage whatever developer it chooses to work with Kings.
Kings would sublease its current location to a "compatible" tenant; it does not own the building but has a longterm lease.
One man asked why the township is even issuing an RFP when it seems to want Kings to be the tenant. "Kings is important to the Village...I'm not looking to do hurdles for Kings but we should try to align [our] interests," DeLuca said.
Angelo Vayas, owner of Village Trattoria, said he was concerned a bigger Kings would bring too much traffic to the town. "At first I thought it was a good idea, not I'm not sure," he said.
DeLuca and Grygiel both emphasized that since there already is a supermarket in the Village, the increase in traffic from a larger store wouldn't be drastic.
Mary Vayas asked what a new Kings would look like. Annette DePalma, the township's head of economic development, said it might be similar to Kings' stores in Hoboken, which follow an urban design model.
One resident asked about holding a design competition, but DeLuca and Grygiel said a developer would have its own ideas about design.
"You can't abdicate responsibility," said Rich Wener. "There's a lot of design talent in this town....don't leave it up to the developer who's looking at the bottom line."
"We need to discuss development in a holistic way," said Joe DePlasco, a Maplewood Avenue resident.
The Columbia University Urban Design Lab Study issued recently recommended that a parking structure be built. DeLuca said the township was beginning to look at what such a structure would look like and what it would do.
DeLuca outlined a rough timeline for the project. By May, the township will have a completed draft of the redevelopment plan, which will need to be approved by the Maplewood Planning Board before the township committee votes for final adoption in June.
The township will then issue a Request for Proposals (RFP), review submissions in early fall and choose a redeveloper by the end of this year.
Slides from the meeting's PowerPoint presentation will soon be available on the Township Website.