MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Township Planning Board voted to approve the Maplewood Village Post Office Redevelopment Plan on Tuesday night.  The plan will be sent back to the Township Committee without any changes, and will most likely be voted upon at the next Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 16.

The Board discussed the most recent version of the plan (which may be viewed here) prior to the vote.  Board Vice Chair James Nathenson expressed concern that the plan specifies that the project may include up to 25 residential units, a number he feels may be too high.  Based on the maximum dimensions of the building, he estimated that each unit would average 1,000 square feet, making them fairly small.  He feared inexpensive units would lead to the building having higher turnover and “more transient” residents.  His preference would be larger, more expensive units.  No other board members expressed strong feelings on this matter one way or the other.

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Board member John Branigan noted that the plan’s maximum height restriction would preclude the building from having any “distinguishing architectural feature” like a clock tower or cupola that might rise above the top floor and make the building more of a landmark.  He said that would be preferable to a “plain rectangular box.”  After a review of the language in the plan, it was agreed that such a feature would be allowable.

About 15 local residents turned out for the meeting to voice their concerns about the plan.

Resident Kevin Muench also commented that 25 units might be too many.  Ruth Ross asked for consideration of noise levels, traffic, parking and access.

Resident Dave Helmkamp noted that the plans we get back from developers are likely to include the maximum number of units the plan allows, and would prefer to see fewer units in the building.

Resident John Harvey said that this is “a once in a lifetime decision that will affect the town for the next 100 years,” and feels that the board is rushing the process to meet a self-imposed timeline, rather than slowing down the decision-making to ensure they get it right.

Committeeman Gerard Ryan said, “Anyone who thinks we are rushing this process is mistaken.” He pointed out the many months the plan has taken to draft, the many individuals and groups that contributed, and the numerous Township Committee meetings and Planning Board meetings at which the plan has been discussed.  He also noted that the process still has a long way to go, and the town can make changes as it goes.

Resident Carol Stefan asked about the oversight of the recent Station House project, which she called unattractive.  She asked what is being done to make sure the new project will have a more positive outcome.  Planning Board Chair Tom Carlson said that the process in place for the post office project is much more specific and that the town will have much more control.

Some in attendance felt that the maximum allowable size of the project was simply too large, and might overpower the existing downtown area.

Resident Inda Sechzer raised many issues, including her desire for the town to appoint a more qualified design review committee, which would include architects and designers.  She expressed concern that a larger supermarket would include an unattractive façade facing Maplewood Avenue.  She, too, felt the size of the building will be out of scale with its surrounding neighbors.  And finally, she questioned the wisdom in the town selling the property to a developer at all.

It was communicated by both Carlson and Mayor Victor DeLuca that the site remaining commercial in nature is consistent with the town’s Master Plan and vision for the downtown area.

The issue of parking was raised again, and it was noted that the plan does not do anything that would help alleviate the scarcity of downtown parking.  Carlson said that a plan should be created in the near future to address this problem, which has been ignored for too long.

The next Township Committee meeting, where this plan will probably be voted upon, will be held on Tuesday, July 16, at 7 PM at he Police & Court building, 1618 Springfield Avenue (not at Town Hall).  There will be time for public comment on this issue at this meeting as well.