Updated Jan. 8, 2015, 11:05 a.m. The article has been updated to stress the fact that the ordinance was passed on introduction and first reading. The ordinance is scheduled for second reading on Jan. 20.
The Maplewood Township Committee unanimously passed an ordinance on first reading Tuesday to adopt changes to the Post Office redevelopment plan. The vote followed a presentation by Paul Grygiel of Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, the planning firm retained by the town.
Now that the ordinance has passed the first reading, the plan will go back to the Planning Board for its input on January 13, then come back to the Township Committee for a second reading (and public comment) and final adoption on January 20. Once that happens, the site plan will be reviewed by the Planning Board and the Maplewood Village Alliance.
The ordinance is posted on the town website and can be found here.
“A lot has changed since July [when the plan was initially approved],” said Grygiel, noting that was “typical of the redevelopment process.”
He went through the changes in the ordinance, which he said were “very limited.” He continued, “The overall plan remains intact,” is consistent with the town’s Master Plan and “understands the realities of building design and the marketplace.”
Once the developer, JMF Properties, began working on the building’s interior, “it became clear there were some issues” that would necessitate alterations.
JMF Properties has proposed 23 apartments, about 9,000 square feet of retail space, and shopper parking in a new surface lot in the rear of the building.
The recent changes were previously approved by the Maplewood Village Alliance Design Review Committee. The changes are summarized below:
- Height: the maximum height may increase from 45′ to 52’9″ — an additional 7’9″. Grygiel said the change was needed so the retail space could have reasonable ceiling heights, and so that the apartments had enough room to properly line up plumbing from one floor to another.
- Setbacks: on Maplewood Avenue the portion of the building over 30 feet shall be set back one foot for every one foot in height over 30 feet. On the Ricalton Square side, the portion over 30 feet shall be set back a minimum of 10 feet from the building facade. Grygiel said that was so the additional building height was less visible from the street side. “When you look straight up it’s not like you are looking at a three or four story building,” he said in a phone interview. “It is not one single plane.”
- Ornamentation: there may be an architectural feature that exceeds the height limits at the corner of the building at Maplewood Ave. and Ricalton Sq. That feature should not be more than one additional story over the maximum permitted height at that intersection and should not be more than 25 feet wide. Grygiel called this a “good suggestion” that will add some visual interest to break up the facade.
- Affordable Housing: The developer may pay $100,000 into the Maplewood Affordable Housing and Rehabilitation Program in exchange for the Township waiving the requirement to provide two units of affordable housing. Grygiel said this arrangement allows for “more flexibility” in how the developer meets the requirement. “It makes a lot of sense,” he said, noting that the county regulations on the program were still “in flux.”
- Subdividing lots: Two lots will be merged and a portion of one will be subdivided from the new lot. The township will retain control of the “Village Coffee lot” since the developer is not using that parcel.
Several residents asked the committee to reconsider some of the changes, in particular the height allowance, and to provide drawings and renderings to show what the new plan would look like.
One Maplewood Avenue homeowner brought up the example of the Station House apartment complex at the site of the former police station on Dunnell Road. When she first saw plans of the building, she thought it was “not terrible,” but she changed her mind once it was constructed.
“It is the ugliest building I’ve ever seen,” she said, with “all the charm of an army bunker.” Calling the building “too tall,” she said she feared a similar thing would happen with the Post office building. “I don’t think people realize what [the height] does to the general feel of the town.”
“Why so fast?” asked resident John Harvey, a frequent critic of the township’s handling of the Post Office plan. Harvey asked officials to show residents visuals (e.g., drawings or renderings) of the plan, gather input and “slow down.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, Mayor Vic DeLuca said changes and adjustments were going to happen; “it’s all part of the process.”
Asked why the previous developer, L&M Properties, didn’t allow for a taller building height in its plan, DeLuca said they had not reached the point of producing site drawings before they had to pull out of the project.
“They were focused on designing the outside of the building,” DeLuca said. He said L&M would have found similar issues once they began designing the building’s interior.
DeLuca said JMF had working drawings, but they were not yet ready to be circulated to the public. Those will be made public when they are brought back to the Planning Board and the Maplewood Village Alliance design committee for the next review.
DeLuca said that in response to a request from resident Dave Helmkamp at the meeting, the township will consider posting updated information about the project in an easily accessible place on the town’s website.