OPINION: Post Office Development Could Negatively Impact Businesses in Village

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The opinions expressed below are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Village Green or its editors.

Over the next few months the Maplewood Post Office Redevelopment will take one of two likely directions; continue on the path that has been defined by the Township Committee, or reach a point where a “do-over” becomes the next chapter.

Much will be known about the future direction over the next few weeks, especially with a Maplewood Planning Board (PB) meeting next Monday evening August 31 at 7:30 p.m.  At this meeting, the PB will attempt to address over 20+ deviations that have surfaced from a review of the developer’s plan.

I have been vocal about the process the TC has used for this development project for some time.  Most critically is a process that has led to a poor financial deal for taxpayers (who own the prime parcel of land), the lack of consideration for repurposing ideas for the development, and a narrow, short-sighted focus that neglected the proper studies that will result in a negative or unknown impact on the future vitality of the Village.

So, why am I writing now?

I am concerned for our local merchants, the anchors that contribute significantly to the terrific pulse of our Village.

Let me explain.

The Village merchants are comprised primarily of small, locally-owned businesses. No less than thirty-five (35) of these Village businesses are owned/operated by members of our community. In addition to caring about their customers as neighbors and friends, they re-invest the benefits of their business back into the community through their day-to-day expenses.

Rents along Maplewood Avenue are probably higher than you imagine. A business I used to own on Maplewood Avenue today pays in excess of $5,500 for one of, if not the smallest retail spaces in the Village. Another Maplewood Avenue business just west of Inwood Place has a monthly rent in excess of $7,000 (yes, that is a month!). Finally, a third Maplewood Avenue business just west of the PO building has a monthly rent of about $8,000/month.

So, let’s go to the planned PO Development.

There are five retail spaces planned by JMF, which range in size from 1,070 to 2,749 square feet.  Despite the question being asked of the developer several times we do not know the anticipated rents for the five retail spaces. Based on the current comparatives, however, we can be sure it will be a premium rate.

Why does this matter?

At the northwest corner of the proposed development is a retail space comprising 1,950 square feet. For a new business to justify the high commercial rent for this premium space, or any of the five retail spaces, it would need to produce a high volume of business. My concern is that to do this, the business will be one that will negatively impact the subtle balance of businesses in the Village.  There are several reasonable examples.

One possible tenant for this retail space would be a coffee purveyor, like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, as the location would be the closest retail space to the train station. How would a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts impact local businesses like Village Coffee, the Able Baker, and/or The Maple Leaf? I believe either would have a significant negative impact.

Another prospective retailer could be a business like Panera Bread which, in my opinion, would negatively impact any of the many food-related business in town like Maplewood Deli, Roman Gourmet, and the Village Trattoria.

You may be thinking, “What about free market economics? Let the market decide! Isn’t this the foundation of our economy?”

For one, the free market argument is moot in my opinion. The TC has provided the developer with significant incentives in the form of tax reductions and allowances. These are incentives that are not available to local businesses in the Village. If the developer, JMF Properties, was purchasing this prime property with no incentives I could agree with the thought that maybe the free market should rule.

Secondly, Maplewood is different — it is a community. It is important for us to look out for our neighbors in a way that helps their business, and our community, thrive.

A short-term, narrowly focused process for the P.O. Redevelopment has resulted in numerous issues at every phase (e.g. the oversight of the King’s delivery trucks being able to deliver to the store) of the project.

We are then backed into solutions that may not result in the best possible outcome for our community.

If you share a similar concern there are actions you can take.

For one, attend the Planning Board meeting next Monday and learn more.

Encourage the Planning Board to ask important questions like, “What is JMF’s intent regarding the retail tenants? What tenants have been signed on, pending approval of the Plan?”

Our Mayor has shared more than once that this Maplewood Planning Board meeting is the public’s opportunity to learn more and share their insight on this project.

Ask your Township Committee members and Maplewood Village Alliance Board members what they are doing to ensure prospective tenants vitalize the Village, rather than cannibalize current local businesses.

Ask our Mayor what the town’s business development consultant has done to ensure the right mix of businesses in the Village.

And, send a note to the Township Committee, the Maplewood Village Alliance, expressing your opinion and suggesting they delay this “special PB meeting” on Monday until September, when more Maplewoodians are able to participate.

Supporting local businesses, and their ability to thrive, are keys to the future success of Maplewood!

John Harvey has lived in Maplewood for more than 30 years. John, his wife, Helen and two of their children have previously owned local Maplewood businesses in Maplewood.

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