The recent announcement by the Maplewood Township Committee that it would move forward to purchase the historic Woman's Club on Woodland Road has raised many questions about why the township should (or should not) purchase the 1930s building and property, what it plans to do with the property and how the move might impact Maplewood and its residents.
Ahead of two votes the Township Committee's will take on Tuesday night -- to approve the purchase and to agree to add a bond of $1.1 million to the township's capital budget to fund it -- here are answers to some pertinent questions.
What is the Woman's Club and why is it important to the township?
The Woman’s Club of Maplewood was founded in December 1916 and was a vital part of the town since its inception, according to this Patch article.
The building itself, while not currently a designated historic landmark, was constructed in 1930 by a well-known club architect and is widely considered to have historic value.
Why did the members put the club up for sale?
For a detailed history, see this Patch article. To sum up, the club put the property on the market in August of 2010 for an asking price of $2.4 million. (Also, in 2010 Maplewood Township brought suit against the Club claiming that it should be paying taxes on the property because it was renting to for-profit ventures. The Township and the Woman's Club eventually came to a settlement and the property remains tax-exempt.)
In March of 2011, , purchased the building for an undisclosed amount. But as completion of the sale has been held up by a lawsuit brought by a group of neighbors, Kerns backed out of the deal and the property went back on the market for $1.9 million. Shortly after that, the Township Committee announced its intention to purchase the property for $1 million.
Why might the township purchase the property?
- Historical and sentimental value to the town.
- Prime piece of property in the center of town, available for a relatively low price.
- Maintaining the space for community and other events, as opposed to a developer turning it into something else (i.e., townhouses, long-term care facility, which have all come up in the past).
- Valuable parking spaces/lot.
- Possibilities to utilize the property and the parking as part of the town's overall redevelopment plan, which has been a huge topic of discussion for several years.
What does the township plan to do with the property?
The first and most immediate thing is to use the club's 60 parking spots. Some options that have been preliminarily discussed include designating spots for permitted merchant, overnight residential, or commuter parking.
The township might combine the parking lot with the adjacent lot on Highland Place and build a small, bi-level parking deck, to improve parking capacity and traffic flow in the village.
How much will it cost to repair and restore the building?
Mayor Vic DeLuca said at a recent township committee meeting that Kerns had gotten an estimate for $3 million. However, DeLuca has stressed that the township would not seek to restore the building to the same standard that Kerns -- who planned to rent out the venue for private events and make a profit -- had planned.
"We are looking to do as little as possible to stabilize the building," said DeLuca.
What does the township plan to do with the building?
DeLuca and other township committee members have said they would like to use the building for community events, as well as to continue renting it out for private functions.
What about the lawsuit? Wouldn't the plaintiffs still object to using the property for events, which they say bring traffic and noise?
The township is continuing to fight the lawsuit, which was a challenge to the granting of permission for expanded use of the property. While the township might rent out the building for events, DeLuca said they would not be doing so at the volume that Kerns intended and could put restrictions in place that might satisfy the neighbors.
If the neighbors succeeded in the suit, the township could in theory continue to operate the club as it has been in the past and not under the proposed expanded use envisioned by Kerns.
Could the Township Committee choose to demolish the building after the purchase is complete?
Yes, there are currently no restrictions on the building being demolished. (The Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission is discussing asking the TC to add the building to the list of historic buildings, which would make it more difficult to demolish.)
Ryan has said demolition would be a "last resort" for him. DeLuca has said the goal is preservation; however, he also said the township committee still needs to assess the viability of the building.
"We have a hope we can make it work, but...if we can not keep (all or part) of the building up we have the ability to demolish part of it," said DeLuca at a recent township committee meeting.
What about the talk of partnering with another entity to help restore and/or manage the building?
Ryan has said he would like to discuss issuing an RFP to find a partner in exchange for a longterm lease, in return for them managing the building or helping to pay for the renovations in exchange for free rent.
He gave the example of an old library in Summit that the town leased to a community theater group for $1/year. The group had use of the building for its plays in return for them maintaining and operating the building.
What about selling the building to someone else, or "flipping" it?
DeLuca, Ryan and Kathy Leventhal all have said they have no interest in flipping the building. (Marlon K. Brownlee and India Larrier have not yet responded to a request for comments from Patch).
All three have expressed a desire to find a way to integrate the Woman's Club space into the town's overall development plan.
Which leads us to...
How does this fit in with the whole Post Office issue?
This is one of the main reasons the purchase is so enticing to the township administration.
The township has been discussing redeveloping the Post Office site for over a decade, as part of its overall redevelopment plan. In 2010, the Post Office was notified by the Township of Maplewood 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. (See PDF here). DeLuca has discussed his vision of redeveloping the site as ground-floor retail with upper-floor apartments and has been talking with the ownership of Kings Super Market about relocating to the site, which would nearly double its size.
The town’s goals for the property include a development that is well-designed, sustainable and improves the Village’s parking situation.
Recently, the township has been working with Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab (UDL) for a planning and design study that will outline and identify potential residential, commercial, manufacturing, and educational uses for the site. Recommendations from the study are in and will be presented shortly.
The township's goals for the site -- to make it a ratable, to keep Kings and to increase density of people to the downtown -- require the need for more parking, DeLuca explained recently. Therefore, the potential acquisition of the Woman's Club would allow the township the most leeway and flexibility as it goes forward in redeveloping the Village.
How would this affect taxpayers?
To borrow money the town needs a 5% down payment, so the cost of the purchase this year would be 5% of the price of $80,000, said Ryan. The bond will be paid off over time and each year there will be a principal and interest payment over a period of 15 years.
In terms of a very preliminary estimation of how much it might actually cost, that would translate to approximately $6-7 per household per year, Ryan said.
Is this a done deal?
No, not until the bond ordinance is voted on on final passage and the legally required time passes, said Ryan. The deal could in theory be killed if the bond ordinance is not passed, if the township committee does not vote on the contract, if they do not vote to pass the bond ordinance on final passage, or if something comes out of any inspections.
Anyone is free to show up to Tuesday's Township Committee meeting at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall to speak their piece.