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 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.
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).
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.