4 p.m.: The article has been updated to indicate the project will likely be started, rather than completed, in mid-2015. Also, a comment from Jerry Ryan has been added.
10:30 p.m.: The article has been updated with a comment from Jon Cortell, principal of L&M.
L&M Development Partners, the designated developer of the proposed mixed-use Post Office project in the middle of Maplewood Village, has decided to withdraw from the project, and the town will begin interviewing other developers immediately.
“We will move on to another chapter in the development of the Post Office site,” said Mayor Vic DeLuca in a phone interview. DeLuca said he expects the project to be delayed by another six months, putting it at a mid-2015 start date.
The township sent out an email Tuesday afternoon announcing the town had learned of L&M’s withdrawal on Sept. 18.
The full text of the email is below:
The Township of Maplewood is seeking a new developer for the Post Office Redevelopment Project on Maplewood Avenue. Earlier this month, the previously designated developers, L&M Development Partners and Wilder Balter Partners, withdrew from the project.
On September 4th, the principal of Wilder Balter advised the Township that he would no longer be involved in the project. He cited as reasons his recovery from a serious medical condition and Kings Supermarket’s decision not to become the anchor tenant in the new building. The Township and L&M then discussed various options to keep the project moving forward. On September 18th, L&M informed the Township it was withdrawing from the project.
During the next two weeks, the Township will interview four developers who expressed interest in the project and have a record of successful redevelopment in Maplewood and nearby towns. The Township has informed these prospective developers that the project must be built in accordance with the redevelopment plan and building designs already approved by the Maplewood Village Alliance. The Township Committee may designate one of these developers for exclusive negotiations at its October 7th meeting.
The Township Committee extended the lease of the post office until February 2015. At that time the post office will move to its new location at 195 Maplewood Avenue.
DeLuca said Wilder Balter’s withdrawal was the main reason L&M pulled out. (L&M had brought Wilder Balter in as a co-developer). “L&M decided they did not want to take it on themselves,” he said.
Jon Cortell, principal of L&M, confirmed that Wilder Balter’s withdrawal hindered L&M’s ability to execute the project.
“We had a very constructive dialogue with the town, and we were thrilled that people liked our design,” said Cortell. “The good news is Maplewood will get the project it wants, just from [another developer].”
Cortell commended town officials — “a great bunch” — for doing a “good job with a project that is not easy.”
He continued, “Something good will come out of this.”
“I’m disappointed that we were not able to make the project work with these developers,” said township committeeman Jerry Ryan. “The design that has been discussed with the Maplewood Village Alliance would be an attractive improvement to Maplewood Village, so I look forward to another developer helping to make this a reality.”
“We will see redevelopment at the Post Office site that will follow the design worked out with the Maplewood Village Alliance, even though with a new developer,” said Deputy Mayor Kathleen Leventhal.
Township attorney Roger Desiderio and Director of Community Relations Annette DePalma will interview four candidates over the next week. Some of the candidates had been in the group of developers who had submitted applications to the RFP; others are new, said DeLuca, who declined to make the names public.
On October 7, the town will enter into a period of exclusive negotiations with one or more developer, which will be followed by meetings with other stakeholders.
Kings announced in June it would not move into the space, after a long period of discussion and negotiations. However, DeLuca said the town could “still build what we are looking for without Kings.”
Some developers who submitted proposals “never anticipated Kings” moving into the space, he said, adding that the town “could have gone a different way if we had known sooner” that Kings would not be the anchor.
“Everyone said at the beginning of the process that they weren’t worried if Kings were in or out but were happy to work with them,” said Ryan.
Asked what the town would consider a perfect anchor for the Post Office site, DeLuca said it would depend on how a developer would apportion the retail space. L&M had planned on 11,000 square feet for Kings, but a developer could propose a lower number. “It’s too early to tell how many square feet of retail” there would be, he said.
(The number of apartments is capped at 25 residential units, and a developer must provide 1.5 parking spaces per unit.)
Meanwhile, the town had already agreed to extend the Post Office’s current lease to February, to give it time to renovate its new headquarters at 195 Maplewood Avenue.
“We’ve done a lot of work already,” DeLuca said. “If we can get a developer on board, working in sync,” the project could begin by the middle of next year. It is anticipated to take approximately eighteen months to complete.