The Maplewood Village Alliance board of directors will be voting on the design of a proposed mixed-use apartment building at 104 Baker Street — the former Toomey’s Automotive site — on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, at 7:30 p.m., in the Parlor Room in The Woodland. The meeting is open to the public.
Local architects Josh and Christian Uhl and local developer/owner Josh Mann of Iron Ore Properties have proposed a modern architectural design that has split the community — at least as evidenced by comments on social media.
The Maplewood Village Alliance design review committee members also had divergent views on the design, finally approving it on July 30 by a 5-3 “split” vote, according to MVA Manager Deb Yohannan.
The new building, which architect Josh Uhl said requires zero variances as it complies entirely with the approved redevelopment plan for the site, will provide ground floor and partial second floor commercial space, plus 11 apartment units on the second and third floors. According to Mann, 1 on-site (2 bedroom) will be an affordable housing unit; Iron Ore is working with Maplewood Township officials to provide 1 off-site (3 bedroom) affordable housing unit.
Mann reports that the building will exceed LEED certification standards and “be one of the most sustainable apartment buildings in the area.”
According to Yohannan, those on the MVA design review committee who voted for the project felt that the proposed building is of “great quality. The architects and the developers are locals and have been cooperative and really worked with our feedback to make it fit into the village.” Yohannan said that design review committee supporters of the project felt that, despite being a modern building, it is visually compatible with other buildings on Baker. “The ones that voted yes think it will make a great addition to the village,” said Yohannan, and that it would “bring vitality” and work well on Baker Street.
Yohannan said that the design review committee members who voted against the design “believe it doesn’t fit in on Baker and isn’t visually compatible.” However, she noted that one of the three “no” votes “was very much on the fence.”
At the September 4 MVA board vote, the architects and developer will present, then MVA Board President John James will open the floor to questions from the board, then from the public. “He’ll ask for final comments after questions, then the board will vote,” said Yohannan.
John James, the Village Alliance Board President, clarified the approval process in a separate email to Village Green. James reported that the Design Committee makes a recommendation to the Village Alliance Board (in this case, 5-3 in favor of the development); the MVA Board vote is the legally binding vote of recommendation and approval of the design of the building and whether it meets the Village Alliance Design Criteria and the Redevelopment Plan requirements.
Yohannan noted that the design review process and board approval has been important in giving the developer and architects “feedback that would help get to a design that will work best for the town.”
Mann agreed: “We were really pleased with the extensive and thoughtful feedback from the MVA’s Design Review Committee. These are mostly design professionals who volunteered a lot of their time to this process. They really helped make the design considerably better from where we began.”
The Maplewood Planning Board has legal jurisdiction over site plan applications.
Mayor Vic DeLuca confirmed that Iron Ore has applied for a 5-year tax abatement for the property. The Maplewood Township Committee is reviewing that application. Any potential award of an abatement would be announced in a TC meeting agenda and go through a public hearing and vote.
The abatement would help to allay some of the costs of environmental remediation for the former Toomey Automotive site. Said Mann, “We have already removed 11 oil tanks and cleaned up any contamination related to those tanks. The Licensed Site Remediation Professional assigned to the property and the state Department of Environmental Protection have already signed off on those as completed. We will have to demolish the building to see if there are any more tanks.”