The Maplewood Township Committee voted Tuesday night to reject an ordinance on final passage to adopt amendments to the redevelopment plan for the Post Office that would have allowed the building to rise to a height of 50′.
The decision means the town will revert to the original redevelopment plan it approved in July, 2013.
The vote comes after the developer, Joe Forgione of JMF Properties, agreed to eliminate one floor from the proposed building, reducing it from four stories to three. The building’s overall maximum height would be 45 feet and the number of residential apartments would be reduced from 23 to 20 on two residential floors.
Mayor Vic DeLuca explained that because of the slope of Maplewood Avenue, the proposed building would come in at 35′ 6″ tall at the side that faces Ricalton Square and 45′ 6″ at the side facing Village Coffee.
There will be no parapet; there will be mechanicals and a stair tower on the building’s roof. The plan still calls for a plaza at the corner of Maplewood Avenue and Ricalton Square, and a decorative walkway from Maplewood Avenue to the entrance to the train station tunnel.
“There’s more to do in terms of the design…[and] with the Maplewood Village Alliance and the Planning Board,” said DeLuca.
Former Mayor Fred Profeta, who recently asked the TC to consider repurposing rather than demolishing the building, presented a more detailed proposal to turn the ground floor into a “fitness and wellness center,” that could house exercise classes, physical and massage therapy, and more.
The plan would also include a small fencing club and school. “Maplewood is the fencing capital of New Jersey,” said Profeta. He said such a plan would attract fencers and parents to the Village to shop and eat, providing an economic boost to the town without bringing in stores that would compete with existing businesses.
“Bring them to the Village for something active…and then encourage them to spend their money there.”
Profeta also urged the committee to compel the developer to comply with green initiatives such as solar panels.
Two residents who are parents of young fencers spoke in favor of the fencing club. Bill Viquiera said it would be a “great fit” for the Village that would complement local businesses. Eric Hammarberg, who is an architectural designer specializing in historic preservation, said while adaptive reuse could be costly, “there’s a lot that could happen with that.” He said subgrade parking could be added, and there would be room for other retail establishments as well as a second floor.
Former township committeeman David Huemer urged TC members to consider retaining ownership of the property, comparing it to the township’s purchase of the former Woman’s Club, now The Woodland, which is now a revenue-generating event space.
Longtime business owner John Dilley expressed surprise that Village merchants had not been asked to to play a role in the redevelopment plan as it has unfolded. He mentioned his concerns about parking — “the elephant in the room” — which he said will only get worse with the proposed development.
Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan said if anyone had submitted a proposal for reuse “we would have considered it.” Township Committeewoman India Larrier said she was “enthused” about the fitness suggestion — “but we have to get the building built first.”
Township Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee was concerned about a fencing club adding to the town’s parking problem. “Where are they going to park?”
He also cautioned against viewing the redevelopment only in terms of individual residents’ potential tax savings. “From a collective standpoint, we all benefit,” he said, saying that a hypothetical tax savings of $100,000 might mean the hiring of a police officer or firefighter.
“We are all in this together, and so I look at it from that perspective as well.”
The Township Committee then voted 5-0 against the ordinance.