The Maplewood Planning Board unanimously approved the construction of a 20-unit apartment complex at 479 Valley Street, Maplewood on Tuesday. This property is directly across from Columbia High School and has been vacant for a number of years.
To reach this point, however, numerous meetings were held and large revisions were made to the original building plans. In the previous meeting, the revised building plans were described by some members as “uninviting and uninspired.”
The planning board established a subcommittee, comprised of board members Tammy Haynie, Karen Pisciotta, and Nancy Adams, to collaborate with the applicant and create a plan that was attractive to both sides.
Adams said at Tuesday’s meeting, “…we assured them that regardless of the conversations and the agreements or anything that we sort of talked about, we had no guarantee that the planning board would approve the project.” The subcommittee and applicants discussed topics like coloring, brick usage, landscaping, and other aesthetic matters.
At the meeting, Pisciotta expressed her satisfaction with the collaboration. “I think the building now is more welcoming and less industrial looking… the applicant has really listened to some of our concerns about the look and feel of the building and how it can fit in the community and so I appreciate that.”
Many of the concerns about the structure stemmed from the multiple variances requested by the applicants; a variance is a special request to deviate from established building rules in an area.
Irwin Kizel, the building planner, said, “Not only does it improve the visual environment of the municipality, it provides much needed housing, including two lower cost units that would ordinarily not be provided. Furthermore, I believe that the benefits of granting this application will substantially outweigh any detriments… for the reasons I stated, the basic improvement to the visual environment, the fact that we’re providing housing, I further believe that the variances can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good.”
For board member James Nathenson, the fact that the applicants were requesting a building coverage (the percentage of the lot area that is covered by building area) of greater than 50%, the mandated level, caught his eye. He questioned, “Couldn’t the benefits that you cite be substantially achieved with a smaller building that shouldn’t require as much of a variance?”
Kizel responded that to comply with the 50% building coverage would be an entirely different project, less than ⅔ size of the project the applicants were proposing. John Wyciskala, the applicant attorney, added that this would not be economically viable.
Kizel concluded the discussion by stating, “By granting that particular variance, my opinion is that given the benefits of the project, it will not negatively impact the zoning ordinance and the zone plan associated with this property.”
Mayor Victor Deluca concluded that he was in support of the building after the revisions and potential benefits. “I think this is still within walking distance to the train… and I think we’re getting two affordable units, one a three bedroom unit, which is very difficult to get from developers nowadays… All in all, I think it’s worth voting for.”