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Urban Design Study Released for Maplewood Village

Pedestrian plazas, office buildings over the train tracks, a "grand arcade" in Ricalton Square are some ideas for redeveloping the Post Office site.

 

In August, the Maplewood Township Committee hired Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab (UDL) to conduct a planning and design study to outline and identify potential uses for the Post Office site.

The study, which cost $20,000 and is titled, "Re-thinking Maplewood, NJ: Transit, Growth and Density," is complete. The report can be accessed here.

"We wanted out of the box thinking," said Mayor Vic DeLuca, who stressed the recommendations in the study are not a blueprint but a way to help the township think differently about how to reconfigure the entire downtown core.

"It has not been adopted or agreed to by the Township Committee," said DeLuca. "It will be used to help shape our thinking as to the options we might want to consider for the development of the post office site."

The study

The 57-page study is a detailed look at the town's history, demographics, infrastructure, building stock and amenities. It presents three plans, all of which ask the question, "Which design scenarios could reactivate Maplewood Village?"

The plans all stem from the goals of maximizing the town's development potential, ensuring plenty of parking, enhancing the village's pedestrian-friendly "social and cultural core" and trying to solve one of the stickiest problems: the lack of a connection -- both visual and physical -- between the Village and Memorial Park on the other side of the train tracks.

Different scenarios

Scenario 1 would construct an office building that spans the train tracks, physically extending the Village to the south -- something DeLuca said is unlikely to happen because the tracks are NJ Transit property.

This plan also calls for the construction of a parking garage in the Bank of America lot. DeLuca said the lot is privately owned and is unlikely to be sold anytime soon. All of the plans recommend building new parking garages or decks, which DeLuca said "reaffirms our decision regarding (purchasing) the Woman's Club," which has a 60-spot parking lot.

Scenario 2 redirects Maplewood Avenue's traffic to be one-way going west and creates a new secondary road parallel to the Avenue (which would be one-way going east) behind the strip of stores from Village Coffee to Arturo's. It also adds a public plaza across from the Bank of America.

DeLuca said the town doesn't own the parking spaces behind the buildings. However, he said, it might be possible to have Maplewood Avenue be one way from Durand Road to Inwood Place, creating a "circle" of traffic flow (which would also lead to the Woman's Club parking lot).

Scenario 3 attempts to maximize the site's development potential by creating a "tower-like element" at the north end of the site at the foot of Ricalton Square, which would connect to a four-story structure of residential and business space.

All of the scenarios appear to depict a net loss of green space. "We do not want to lose any net green space there right now," said DeLuca. He said the green space that is currently Ricalton Square could stay as it is, be reconfigured or even be split into different parts and made more centrally located in the Village (for instance, it could be moved to where the Village Coffee parking lot alongside the post office currently is).  

Next steps

The township will hold a third public community meeting in April (read about the first two public meetings here and here), then will settle on the major parameters and work with its current consultant Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC.

Then the plan will be presented to the township committee and the planning board. Once a plan is voted on, the township will recruit developers for the site.

"We want to find a developer to work with Kings," said DeLuca. The township has been in talks for some time with Kings to move across the street to the post office site.

DeLuca said that in negotiations with Kings' representatives, the lack of a parking lot dedicated to customers "is not a dealbreaker," as long as there is enough available parking in town.

For more information on the Post Office plan, see the township's Area in Need of Rehabilitation plan completed in 2011, and the parking study of 2012. 

Home Owner March 07, 2013 at 09:51 AM
We want our money back. No due diligence, at all. No research or recognition of property rights. No recognition of the actual plan we are working full-steam-ahead on. I suppose it's easier to do "pie in the sky" than the mundane aspects of planning around the credible scenarios. But it doesn't give us any value whatsoever for our $20,000.
Lee Navlen March 07, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Wow, looks like the Mayor wants Maplewood Village becoming the next Springfield Ave. No thanks, Mr. Mayor. Leave our village alone.
Mr. Boondoggle March 07, 2013 at 05:35 PM
So they hired an entity which clearly had absolutely no knowledge about NJT's air rights? What else did they have absolutely no knowledge about? Here's some more "out of the box" thinking. Stop wasting our money on stupid crap like this.
Joe Gonzalez March 07, 2013 at 07:50 PM
I don't see the insights that came from this study, beyond the stupidity that the Women's Club parking spaces are involved. We should have spent the money on a study that had researchers going door-to-door interviewing residents to see what they are looking for.
Lee Navlen March 07, 2013 at 08:30 PM
Joe, The danger of going door to door is that people do in fact talk to you..and talk to you and talk. Something like that might take years to pull off but yes, I agree, money flushed down the toilet.
Nick Bergine March 07, 2013 at 08:36 PM
This type of thinking is fantastic! We cannot fossilize Maplewood Village. If we did we wouldn't have the new businesses moving in. Rethinking is a way to keep a town vital and relevant. Big ideas have to come from somewhere and they don't usually come from a bunch of grumpy homeowners who have no vision beyond their own "back yard". What if people decided that there shouldn't be a movie theater in town when it was proposed? What if people decided it was a bad idea to have a supermarket? Do you see how things evolve? Do you understand the world around you is constantly changing? Let's give these great ideas a chance! I'm all for radically changing the future of Maplewood.
Joe Gonzalez March 07, 2013 at 10:42 PM
It would take some time, but financially speaking, $20K can buy a decent sample of in-depth interviews with residents. I was hoping that we would at least get some input into what the options are. Even if it is some lousy survey.
Home Owner March 07, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Nick- Do you have any idea how the movie theatre and supermarket came to be? They evolved in the private sector and with private capital. This study, which is remarkably anti-Green, by the way, further proof Maplewood is as "green" as a fallen leaf in winter, is about the local government interfering with the workings of the market. And as for "radically changing the future of Maplewood," paving over Memorial Park would certainly do so, but I'll fight this obscenity with my own votes and dollars.
H Harvey March 08, 2013 at 02:38 AM
I'm so confused. I just heard about a Master Plan so I finally went to the online site and started reading it. The Master Plan says there are 3 anchors, the Post Office, our small crockery store Kings, and the movie theater. It points out that small grocery stores no longer exist in most places and that's an aspect that Makes Maplewood special. The Master Plan also points out that if the Post Office were to plan to relocate that they should be encouraged to remain in town as that is a destination for people doing business in the Village. One more thing the Master Plan suggests is that we should be careful not to compromise the historical aspects of buildings or character just for parking. I haven't read the whole master plan but I intended to do so. I also understood that last year was the year the town was required to make revisions to the plan and I want to research that as well. Does this new study mean the Master Plan is no longer relevant? Also, will the Historical Preservation Committee be called in for their input and suggestions to this new plan? Again, I'm so confused.
H Harvey March 08, 2013 at 02:39 AM
Sorry - grocery - not crockery. The auto spell did its thing!
lolly evans March 08, 2013 at 08:50 PM
The reason we moved to Maplewood was BECAUSE of the town. It is charming. Please don't make it another SO or Westfield. It is quaint. And please do not allow the TC to purchase the woman's club. The whole thing stinks. They pushed the Women out on a flimsy excuse, because they WANTED that property from the get-go. Why is there a thirst by our TC to parcel off all of our land in favor of rental apartments that generate NO RATABLES. They will only increase the traffic on our streets, increase the crowding of our trains, and increase the number of kids going to our schools. I just don't get it. More apartments! More apartments! More spending! Darnit! Enough. The taxes are killing all of us. Good luck trying to sell your house! Our values will go down when our taxes rise. No one will want to purchase a house with a $18-$20k property tax.
lolly evans March 08, 2013 at 08:51 PM
please send a link to the master plan
Kurt H. Kiley March 08, 2013 at 10:21 PM
When I first saw that hulking monolith rising up from behind the park, I though to myself. "Self, I wonder if anyone addressed the sewer capacity requirements for those 50 new units." Apparently Not. From the report: "The major trunk sewer lines run parallel to the East Branch of the Rahway River. There have been some backflow problems in these lines according to Maplewood’s Master Plan. The aged infrastructure lines undermine the efficacy of the collection system. The Master Plan 2004 noted that “the distribution system of water mains is aging and may become problematic in the future.” No major efforts have been undertaken since then to address the aging water infrastructure." Great, kick that can down the road.
Kurt H. Kiley March 08, 2013 at 11:14 PM
We moved here almost two years ago. The reports of Maplewood being one of the best communities in the country got us to take a look. Driving past Memorial park, and street after street of beautifully maintained homes from the twenties we started to get excited. After driving into the village, and talking to the people of Maplewood we knew we had found our new home town. Maplewood is the only town where people come up to you and tell you how great the town is! And they are right, this is a great town! A person is instantly charmed by the town, the village, and the people. We have fantastic neighbors, this town has a great sense of community. When the hurricane blew through the neighbors banded together to remove the trees and open the street. A neighbor was seriously injured in a car accident and we joined together to bring her food and supplies. The last snow storm three different neighbors came to our rescue with a snow blower! This town is fantastic! Friends say they feel like they have taken a step back in time when they visit us. I feel like we moved to a modern version of Bedford Falls from Its a Wonderful Life. Its like time forgot Maplewood. And that is why we moved here. We are not the only ones. This is what brings, and keeps, everyone here. Writing this in a cube at Columbia University one can't know any of this. How can you know what's best for us when you don't even know us ? Don't strip mine our Village! Maplewood deserves better.
Nick Bergine March 09, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Hmmm, I guess the park could stay. But the golf course and country club definitely need to go. Those are totally antiquated and useless, designed for life that existed last century. If people want to jump up and down about ratables then turn that waste of space into proper luxury homes. I also hope that anyone who disagrees with growth and change will not say a single word when happily paying their taxes. There are a lot of other charming towns, one could always move there, quit their bitching and moaning, reduce their stress and let the world keep on moving by them. P.S. radically changing the future of Maplewood doesn't necessarily mean radically changing Maplewood.
Nick Bergine March 09, 2013 at 01:51 AM
The study is just a presentation of ideas. A conceptual launching pad for more ideas. With all this knee jerk reaction to a simple set of ideas, what in the world will happen to people when the flowers in front of City Hall are switched up? Mass protests? Landscaper lynchings? Is there any possible way that the naysayers could come up with some wonderful ideas to help improve our town instead of turning it into a stagnant place that only looks back and not forward. Get rid of your cell phone, your cable, your Internet, your gas and electric. Light your candles and pray to keep things exactly the way they are so you can be comfortable in your singular world. Or don't, and step up and show us all the better way.
Home Owner March 09, 2013 at 05:23 AM
Nick, You're spot on about the Golf Course but I've been told (and the Internet seems to back it up) that Eminent Domain purchases are difficult to accomplish.
Joe Gonzalez March 11, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Just like our great political system, there are extremely opposite opinions on this. We need to talk about the balance of the future with the past, and the cost/benefit of doing things like this. That is the only way progress is made. Extremism means stalemates and years of wasted time arguing. Let's step back and look at the bigger picture. Our town has some space that can be updated. Now let's exhaust all the sources for coming up with options for what to do with the space, both public and private. Just get everything on the table and have a conversation. The question is, who will organize all of this and present the best argument for a balanced future?

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