The Maplewood Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to grant preliminary site plan approval for the proposed Post House development in Maplewood Village — after the site’s developer proposed shifting the entire building to the south to allow for a wider driveway at Ricalton Square, addressing pedestrian safety, traffic circulation and delivery truck loading and parking concerns.
The vote was a de facto approval of the project, which will bring 20 apartments and five ground-floor retail spaces to the upper end of Maplewood Village.
After working through other issues such as a sewer bypass, the potential removal and replacement of trees, and the impact of the development’s larger retail spaces on existing smaller retailers (Mayor Vic DeLuca noted that the square footage for retailers in the development would also need to accommodate storage space for each retailer), the Planning Board decided to vote for preliminary approval — but stipulated numerous conditions.
Planning Board Counsel Michael Edelson enumerated those conditions, which included: a statement by the Board strongly supporting the creation of the sewer bypass, the stipulation that any changes to the facade go through the Maplewood Village Alliance for approval, a condition that the amended site plan be consistent with testimony given tonight including the new Exhibit A6 which showed the building shifted 10-1/2 feet to the south to create a wider driveway at Ricalton Square, the removal of Juliette balconies, compliance with LEED certification, and a stipulation that Planning Board Engineer Robert Bratt advise the board of additional deviations once the site plan and documents are resubmitted.
Joe Forgione of JMF Properties, the developer of the project, appeared elated after the vote. The project has been through several sessions of hearings and review by the Planning Board and has been the impetus for a lawsuit (now dropped) and appeals by Village Keepers Inc., a grassroots organization opposed to the project.
Local resident Dave Helmkamp said that he and other opponents of the project have requested an opportunity to give further comments on the new site plan. Helmkamp noted during testimony that the public had not had a chance to review the plan which was presented publicly for the first time at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Maplewood resident Inda Sechzer lauded the developer for addressing safety issues, but was concerned that shifting the building would now diminish the site lines from the NJ Transit tunnel to Maplewood Avenue. Sechzer called the tunnel issue “significant.” She also cautioned the Board, “I don’t think you should move forward until you have more information on where the sewer issue is going.” Earlier in the meeting, Board members had determined that the sewer bypass was a township issue and out of the purview of the Planning Board for site approval; they also seemed reassured by Mayor DeLuca who said that the town was moving forward on negotiating easements with property owners to get the bypass built.
Also earlier in the meeting, Planning Board members discussed the massing and the design of the building — subjects of much public comment over the past few months.
“The overall design is compatible in my opinion with the idiosyncratic nature of the rest of the Village,” said Planning Board member John Branigan.
“I’m not in love with the appearance of the building,” said Nancy Adams, “but I’m not of the thought process with downtown revitalization … that new construction has to match. In fact, I think matching is not actually a good thing. That makes for an artificial Main Street Disney World downtown.”
“From my perspective, after very thorough review by the Maplewood Village Alliance and many iterations, the result is, of course, something I support,” said Jim Nathenson. “There were some meaningful changes based on that iterative process, one of them being that building is shorter than originally planned.”
On November 10, the Planning Board will hear an appeal by the Village Keepers against the Maplewood Village Alliance board’s decision on the redevelopment of the Post Office related to an ordinance that requests that the property owners show significant financial hardship before demolishing a building. The appeal also asserts that DeLuca and Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan, both of whom serve on the planning board, should have recused themselves from any discussion or vote regarding the developer’s plan.