Letters to the Editor

Planning for Maplewood Village's Growth

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In a few days, the Maplewood Planning Board will continue hearing an application to allow inclusion of a new restaurant in the Clarus Maplewood development. The restaurant is planned to be 4,000 square feet with seating for 150 or more at peak hours. The application brings to the fore both the excitement and challenges of improving commercial space in Maplewood Village.

Two significant related requests are the introduction of a 500-1000 gallon grease interceptor (grease “trap") and the construction of a 15’ x 23’ masonry structure to enclose seven dumpsters (located in the public parking lot, about 100 feet south of the Clarus building garage entrance). These requests run counter to the "Village Gateway" priority design goal in the 2013 Redevelopment Plan which was intended to revitalize the rear parking areas with improvements to aesthetics, sight lines, and circulation. The grease trap and dumpsters would be positioned at the intersection of new north-south and east-west pedestrian access centered at the New Jersey Transit underpass and would undermine the Gateway design.

The proposal is thus contradictory to a key public benefit set out at the time the developer was engaged. It also is contrary to other requirements regarding trash handling. But beyond that, the proposal sets an untenable precedent in terms of the value, and future uses, of these public areas. If businesses are to grow, and structures re-built and/or enlarged, planning for services should occur first, and be applied fairly to all. Growth through accommodation of each new request is the wrong approach, and will ravage our public spaces and disadvantage both existing and future businesses alike. Our desires for the future of the Village economy brought us to this point; the applicant should now join in a plan that anticipates future demands and allows the "Gateway" to be fully realized. Modern techniques for garbage storage and removal should be included, and shared services for less offensive refuse (e.g. recycling) could be arranged. Use of open space funds should be on the table as part of a multi-year plan to improve the entire area southward to Baker Street.

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The Planning Board is scheduled to deliberate and vote on this proposal on Tuesday, January 10, yet previous testimony by the restaurant owner and developer has not addressed several questions raised by the public and Planning Board members. Unless the Board insists on an independent comparative analysis, the Board members will be forced to vote based on the paltry testimony provided thus far.

This outcome can be avoided, however, if the involved parties move to change course quickly. The proposed restaurant, which would become the most intense commercial use in Maplewood Village, came about as a result of pro-active lobbying by Mayor DeLuca. Moreover, our elected officials are both in charge of the Redevelopment Area (because they appointed themselves to be "development entity" under NJSA 40-12a) and owners of the public spaces impacted. The prospective restaurateur is a local resident.

Mr. Forgione is the Village's largest property owner. These parties have met and agreed to pursue a restaurant -- they should meet again and endorse an effort to handle all garbage properly that would in turn support Maplewood's long-term growth and land values. The Planning Board has the authority to request alternative solutions; if they do not, or if the applicant and Township do not cooperate as outlined above, the Board membership will be forced to vote on the record of the hearing, no matter how weak the testimony is.

The best result for these public areas will be the product of a collaboration of all stakeholders. Neither our leaders, nor the community, should feel compelled to simply accommodate the request as it stands.

Dave Helmkamp has followed this project since its inception five years ago  He is a founding member of engage-maplewood.org and the ohno60.info project. Details on the developer's request are available at bit.ly/StopTheGrease.  #StopTheGreasePlease

First published in the News-Record on Jan. 4.

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