I’ve learned in recent weeks that lawn signs create an entire political dialog unto themselves in Maplewood. Some people have told me they are the dialog.
So I was ready when I read Mike Donoghue’s Open Letter in which he described the Village Keepers lawn signs as being supported by a small clique of “vague anti-development activists with questionable information.” That’s one heck of a communicative lawn sign! Yet, something was lost in translation.
Setting aside what an “anti-developmentalist” might be, let’s just look at the issues of clarity and information validity. Mike provided his primary reasons for encouraging the Township Committee to “stay the course”. I’ve created a chart that excerpts his key points, and presents alternative viewpoints supported by information collected by members of the OHNO60 project. We know, based on a recent Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, that the analysis needed to consider alternatives was never done by the Township—but that oversight hardly makes the discussion less relevant.
There is a reality buried in the alternatives shown in this chart that some describe as “anti-development”. In fact, it is just development economics. This is a relatively small lot with a large building on it. The economics are such that if the building is to be torn down, a developer will only pay for the land. That’s us, you and me, destroying an asset we own—throwing away a $1,000,000. appreciating asset. The business case and cost of construction at this site drives the developer to propose a large building, and his ownership of it removes our ability to control most aspects of its use—creating a new dynamic in the Village for which there is no precedent. If this were a much larger lot, or if the building were derelict, structurally un-sound, un-inhabitable, or blighted, the economics would be different. But as it is, improving and re- purposing the existing building has much lower cost, and increases its value rather than destroying it. And because it is, potentially, nearly 25,000 square feet even if increased by only one story, it can generate as much, or more, revenue than the project proposed by JMF Properties.
Mike, to use your words—yes, let’s “stay the course.” The Township started with the intention of doing their best at this site. We’ve talked it over, and we’ve learned things. Significant changes have come about, most notably a key project motivator, the re-location of Kings, is no longer an option. We also have real financial numbers to consider and examples of other approaches from across the country. What hasn’t changed is that the property is still in the public trust—a real asset accruing value. We need to step back and assess where we’ve come. We need to analyze options and in the end be certain we’ve done the best we could at this site. I hope that’s the course the Township set out on, whether one feels the journey began a few months ago, last year, three years ago, or as some of our sitting Township Committee members recollect, twenty.
Everyone, please join the OHNO60 crew this Saturday or Sunday morning from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Maplewood Avenue so that you can review some of this information in person. And get to the polls June 2nd—a contested race with critical, actionable issues is a very special occasion for Maplewood citizens.