OP-ED: Stay the Course on Post House Development

by The Village Green
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An Open Letter to the Maplewood Township Committee Regarding the Development of the Post Office Site

Dear Members of the Maplewood Township Committee:

Now that we see vague anti-development lawn signs cropping up and adding to sometimes questionable information provided by anti-development activists, I feel I should offer my opinion about the future of the post office site. Despite the very recent outcries from anti-developers, I’m not at all convinced that they represent a majority opinion.

I have lived with my family in Maplewood since 2001, and I hope to be here for a long time. We live a short walk from Maplewood Village and we attend as many Village events as we can, from Dickens Village to Halloween to smaller events like Chocolate Walks and special events at the bookstore. We support local businesses almost daily, and in fact we recently had our first dinner at the new Abril Cocina (highly recommended!).  I walk past the P.O. site every weekday on my travels to and from the train station. In short, I am quite vested in what happens in the Village, and any changes will directly impact me and my family.

I strongly support taking down the existing post office structure and developing the site consistent with the most recent set of Post House renderings.  I have given this a good deal of thought, and my primary reasons are:

  • The added retail space and residences will provide economic benefits to the Township by increasing ratables, enhancing opportunities for residents and visitors to spend time and money in the village and simply by providing more residents to participate in our local economy.
  • The added retail and common space will provide social benefits and enhance the village’s role as a meeting place – I do not expect it to somehow prevent “keeping the village a village” to quote the latest vague objection from the anti-developers.  It can also provide a solution to seniors who want to give up large single family residences yet remain in the town they love, and to younger folks who want to “try out” Maplewood before entering the real estate purchase market.  Those are all good things.
  • Development of residential units near public transportation is the best environmental outcome.  It demonstrates true commitment to “thinking globally and acting locally”.  When one considers a regional perspective, the idea of “recycling” the current structure seems selfishly narrow.  Why not put people where they can ditch their cars and walk to the train?
  • The traffic flow improvements and enhanced connections between the village, train station and Memorial Park will be most welcome.
  • Over the past few years, I have paid much attention to the school district budget, so I know all too well the financial predicament the schools are in.  It is truly frightening. Given this, I would not normally advocate new PILOTs [payments in lieu of taxes] to support development. However, we know that the structure of this 5-year PILOT is much better for the schools than longer PILOTs would be, and it represents a better long-term outcome for the schools than anything that would call for more limited development or for continued ownership by the Township. Under the proposed PILOT, the developer will begin paying land taxes immediately and remaining tax payments will phase in over 2-6 years as I understand it. This is compared to ZERO today.

I do understand the concerns of some that a large building might be at odds with the character of the Village, particularly if the design elements are not closely considered.  I applaud you for not proceeding with the additional floor, for including the Maplewood Village Alliance in the design process and for being honest about the mistakes that were made in the development of the Station House apartments. I do think people will rightly hold the Township Committee accountable for ensuring that those mistakes are not repeated. I believe the latest Post House design represents a reasonable compromise that does reflect input from the community, and I believe the benefits of the new development far outweigh the purely aesthetic objections. Like many others, I feel that several years of discourse has been sufficient for alternative proposals to surface, yet I have seen no proposals from anti-developers that seem desirable while also being fiscally and operationally realistic.

I encourage you to stay the course. This discussion has gone on for years, and my greatest concern is that nothing gets done for a long time – and it seems that would be a perfectly acceptable outcome for some in the anti-development crowd.  I ask you to reject the vague, fear-based arguments that risk saddling the Township with a far less than optimal outcome.  Please, get this done for Maplewood. Get it right at the post office site.

Mike Donoghue

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