Government Maplewood Opinion Towns

OP-ED: Maplewood Must Avoid Making a Costly Mistake at the Post Office Site

The following editorial was sent by Maplewood Township Committee candidate Greg Lembrich:

Among the main reasons that I decided to run for Township Committee is that local government needs to be refreshed. Maplewood needs fresh ideas, a new voice, improved ways to provide information to the public, and to be more responsive to the views of the community. Nowhere are the flaws of the current administration more clear than in the Township’s misguided plan to redevelop the post office site. The current proposal, which calls for demolition of the current building and new construction of a large-scale modern apartment/retail development, is a bad deal for Maplewood from all angles. Among them:

1) Economic

The current proposal is to sell the building and the land (the most prime real estate in town) to the developer for a net gain to Maplewood of less than $700,000 (after accounting for “closing costs”, including demolition expenses, to be absorbed by the Township and the impact of the tax abatement under the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT). Even as it sits abandoned, the building is worth at least $1.8M (equalized 2014 tax value), and could be much more valuable if refurbished and repurposed. Rather than maximize the value of this property, the Town is giving the developer a bargain price and combining it with tax breaks (in the form of a PILOT) and paying costs for demolition and clean up. If the new building is erected, it will not generate full tax revenue for five years, and even after that will provide less than $1 per month in tax relief to the average Maplewood household. Further, the developer will not provide any affordable or senior-designated housing in the new building. This redevelopment proposal is a bad economic deal for our community.

2) Environmental

Maplewood prides itself on being a “Green” town, but options to adapt and reuse the current post office building were never even considered. The most environmentally responsible approach would be to at least explore the possibility of repurposing all or most of the existing building (with needed renovations and cosmetic improvements), but the Township Committee ruled this out years ago before the process even began. No one is proposing to leave the building exactly as it stands today. While in need of some TLC, the current building is structurally sound, and could even support the addition of a second story. As a town that strives to be a beacon of environmental leadership, Maplewood should explore the possibilities to avoid demolition of the building and the waste of resources that will result. Further, the developer has stated that the focus will be on creating a “well” environment for residents of the building (aromatherapy, yoga, etc.) rather than investing in sustainability (such as solar panels). This redevelopment proposal is an irresponsible environmental choice for our town.

3) Character

The charm and character of Maplewood Village are among our community’s crown jewels. It’s why so many people love to live, shop, walk, and eat in our town. The scope of the current proposal is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood and will detract from our quaint downtown area. The design is cookie cutter and looks like it could be dropped into many other suburbs in New Jersey, but it does not fit in Maplewood. The building will tower above its neighbors and block sunlight on Maplewood Avenue. The proposed structure was designed by the same architect responsible for the Station House (on the former police department site across from Memorial Park), which is disappointing and also does not complement its surroundings. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled again. This redevelopment proposal will harm the character of Maplewood.

4) Impact on Local Businesses  

Maplewood Village is one of the most vibrant and creative commercial districts in the region. With world-class restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, family dining and entertainment options, and more, Maplewood is blessed by so many wonderful local businesses. The current proposal will threaten to harm many of them, which is why a stunning plurality of merchants on Maplewood Avenue have publicly expressed their opposition to the redevelopment plan (most with signs in their windows). The new structure will exacerbate the already challenging parking situation in the Village by adding five new retail stores without substantially increasing the number of available public parking spots in the surrounding lots (underground parking will be for residents only). This combination will be detrimental to existing local business.

Further, the issue of truck access for Kings still needs to be resolved. Kings is a key anchor store in our community, and the Maplewood Village Alliance has recognized that the current plan must be modified to allow Kings to receive deliveries. This redevelopment proposal will hurt Maplewood’s existing local businesses.

I spoke out on these issues when the matter was most recently being considered by the Township Committee. So have dozens of others throughout the process. All too often, our views have been dismissed even though the facts cannot be disputed. In some cases, Mayor DeLuca has been outright hostile in public meetings to those who have questioned the plan. Jerry Ryan, one of my opponents in the upcoming primary, cast the deciding vote in favor of granting a tax break to the developer for this project. The current proposal is not what Maplewood wants, and it is not in the best interests of our town.

While the redevelopment proposal has cleared many of the initial steps to approval, it is NOT A DONE DEAL. There is still time for local government to heed the warnings and objections of the hundreds of concerned residents, environmental advocates, and local business owners who have come forward to object to the plan. If I win the nomination on June 2, it will send a clear message to the Township Committee that our community wants to take a second look at the proposed post office site redevelopment project. We cannot afford to make a costly and tragic mistake in the heart of our Village — let’s take the time to get this right.

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