MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Township Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday night to designate L & M Garden State Associates, LLC, as the redeveloper for the post office site. This came after a wave of residents and merchants addressed the committee for a full hour to ask them to postpone such a vote in order to further study and consider what would be best for the Village.
“I don’t think this is a question of right and wrong,” said 67-year resident Mark Christianson. “It is a question dealing with one of the most important pieces of property we have in the village and possibly the entire town.”
John Harvey, one of the founders of the group Engage Maplewood, asked the committee to review and consider the many discrepancies between the plan L & M has submitted and the original outline the Township had created as a guideline for the project. Engage Maplewood had drafted a letter with 42 points of concern which it delivered to each member of the Committee (the highlights of which may be viewed here).
Many of the people who addressed the committee raised the issue of parking in the village as a primary concern and noted that the plan as outlined does nothing to improve the current situation and will actually make it worse. It was pointed out that a larger Kings supermarket and 25 new residential units will bring many more cars into the core of the village, and the plan outline seems to indicate a net gain of only 10 parking spaces over the existing conditions.
“Maplewood is one of the few places in the United States where there is a sense of place,” said township native Jeremiah Birnbaum, who asked that the downtown area be designated a historic business district and criticized the plan to build a structure that would obscure the view of South Mountain from the train and become the largest building in town. “I love this town and I am afraid for its future right now,” he said.
A number of residents also raised the issue of new residential units bringing more school-age children into town when the schools are already overcrowded.
The feeling of many were summed up well by resident Emily Zacharius, who said, “We have a roomful of people here and everyone is very nervous and concerned that we are going to make a mistake.” She also asked that the committee be sensitive to how they communicate their decisions to the community. She said their tone is important and their ability to make people understand the story of how this will benefit the community is paramount.
Architect Karen Nichols of KNTM Architects in East Orange made a presentation in which she outlined the process of how the eight bidders on the post office project were evaluated by her firm as an objective outside consultant. They spent reviewed all eight plans and focused on the three finalists’ plans. They have deemed L & M to be the best choice.
“We felt that L & M was the most comprehensive and responsive to the RFP,” she said, adding that the firm has significant relevant experience for a project of this scale and type. She also said that L & M’s “narrative did exhibit an understanding of the Village and the intent of the project,” but said their plan would require more work to reduce the mass of the upper portion of the building.
There was no deliberation among committee members prior to the vote. Vic DeLuca, India Larrier, Gerry Ryan and Kathy Leventhal each acknowledged the concerns of those assembled, and explained why they were in favor of moving forward with L & M.
“We are very aware of how important this project is,” DeLuca said. “There is no room for a mistake. This has been a very long conversation, but the conversation is not over tonight.” He acknowledged that the plan is “not perfect by far,” but he sees it as “the most in tune with Maplewood Village and what we are trying to achieve.”
DeLuca claimed that the next phase of the project will be more inclusive of the community as well as the Village Alliance. He cited competitive concerns between the bidding firms for much of the secrecy during the process thus far.
This was agreed to by Ryan, who said, “The next steps in the process are going to include more public input, where we will expect more public discussion to help make the plans better.”