Parking, Delivery Trucks Key Issues in Maplewood Post House Hearing

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Editor’s note, 9/11/15, 10:05 a.m.: We have added some statements and quotes and edited others to clarify the distinction between two key issues discussed by the planning board: the loading zone for the retail portion of the proposed building, and the Kings’ loading dock.

The Maplewood Planning Board met Tuesday, Sept. 8, for part three of the site plan hearing for the Post House development — a 20-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail proposed for the site of the former Maplewood Post Office.

The Board heard testimony from the public and continued its discussion of some of the deviations from the redevelopment plan requested by the developer, Maplewood Redevelopers Inc., an arm of JMF Properties.

The Board also heard testimony from project engineer Eric Keller, most of which concerned issues around parking and the loading areas for deliveries to Kings and to the five proposed retail establishments.

Before testimony began, however, Planning Board Counsel Michael Edelson said that the board had confirmed Mayor Vic DeLuca’s testimony in the last meeting regarding JMF’s affordable housing obligation that Maplewood “has zero requirements for additional construction” but does need additional funds contributed into the town’s affordable housing trust fund.

Keller then testified about the loading area in the plan. Planning Board member Jim Nathenson said he questioned whether the width of the driveway on the Ricalton Sq. side and the size of the loading zone area were “potentially inadequate” to accommodate certain size trucks making deliveries to the 9,500 square feet of retail space or for the 20 apartments.

Planning Board engineering consultant Robert Bratt questioned whether certain common trucks, such as a FedEx truck, could fit in the space without causing congestion and disruption. Keller said that the plan allowed sufficient space. “It is not an impediment to the movement of traffic,” said Keller.

Board member Nancy Adams said that, because it wasn’t known yet what retail tenants would move in, the size of the trucks wasn’t yet known. If a tenant was a restaurant or bar, it might require larger trucks, she said.

Adams asked if there was an alternative space for the loading zone. Planning Board member Edward Bolden asked if it would be possible to move the building a few feet south.

After a brief sidebar between Keller, the developer’s counsel Andrew Norin, and JMF’s Joe Forgione, Keller told the board that it would be possible to move the loading zone to the Ricalton Square side; however, they would lose an island and two parking spaces.

Launching into the public testimony part of the evening, Nathenson, who was presiding over the meeting in the absence of Planning Board Chair Tom Carlson, cautioned speakers to stick to discussion of the deviations under consideration. “The time to discuss the goals…and philosophy of the redevelopment plan has long passed.”

Resident David Huemer said the plan was full of “unanswered and unresolved questions” and, therefor, the Planning Board should reject it.

Steven Weber, a city planner and member of the Village Keeper’s board, said that the developer’s parking impact study was inadequate and should be completely revised. He said JMF had presented a “flawed analysis” of the capacity of the Village’s intersections and did not analyze parking demand, delivery operations in the Village, and pedestrian movement.

Weber said that the Kings loading dock is a “safety hazard” and that he was concerned about large tractor-trailer delivery trucks to Kings causing significant disruption to traffic flow on Maplewood Avenue.

Weber explained in an email to The Village Green Friday that JMF was asked to examine the geometry of the project to make sure that Kings’s trucks could enter and exit the loading dock. However, when they did their examination, Weber said, they used a different type of truck with a smaller turning axis than the trucks typically used by Kings for deliveries.

In addition, JMF only looked at the maneuver the trucks use to enter, not exit, the loading dock and came up with a plan that would require the trucks to mount the sidewalk to line up with the loading dock, Weber said. “They were under the mistaken impression that the trucks exit by turning directly onto Maplewood Avenue, when in fact they exit through Ricalton Square,” he said. Weber said Village Keepers believes JMF should analyze both entry and exit with the larger trucks.

Board member John Larrier asked if Weber thought the project would add significant congestion to the lot and to traffic on Maplewood Avenue. “In my opinion, it might,” said Weber.

Bratt said that some of Weber’s suggestions exceeded what was reasonably expected of the developer. Parking in the Village is “a much larger animal than this project alone,” said Bratt, who added that asking JMF to conduct a complete traffic impact study was “not fair game.”

In addition, said Bratt, JMF was “right on the mark” in terms of meeting its parking obligations under the terms of the redevelopment plan. Regarding deliveries, he said he thought the Planning Board had enough information for them to deliberate on that issue.

Peter Steck, who identified himself as a licensed planner, questioned the Planning Board’s jurisdiction to grant JMF a height variance in excess of 33 feet.

Village Keepers member Fred Profeta returned to the issue of the sawtooth oak behind Village Coffee that would need to be cut down to accommodate a dumpster for the development. Profeta said the fact that the developer had not marked that tree with an “X” in the application “goes to credibility.”

Township Committeeman and planning board member Jerry Ryan asked Profeta, “Are you suggesting [JMF is] intentionally…trying to…sneak one by us and we shouldn’t trust them?” Ryan asked if it was Profeta’s testimony that the developer was “lying” when he neglected to include the tree on the plan “and we should not believe him?”

Profeta said, “Yes, that is my testimony.”

Board member Tammy Haynie asked Profeta why he was speaking on behalf of the owner of the Village Coffee building (regarding the trees). “If the matter were important enough for him, he should have provided something in writing to the board,” said Haynie.

Profeta asked about four trees in Ricalton Sq., saying one was in poor shape and should be cut down, but the others should be saved. To counter Profeta, Norin introduced information about sawtooth oaks being invasive species, which caused a bit of a stir among the audience. Mayor Vic DeLuca shook his head at Norin’s comments and said he “absolutely agreed with Profeta about the trees.” DeLuca said that the Village Coffee tree and the three Ricalton Sq. trees should all be saved.

“I just want to let you know that going forward, trees are going to be looked at here,” said DeLuca. Planning Board members agreed that although they did not have jurisdiction over the trees, they could make recommendations to the town.

Village Keepers board member David Helmkamp discussed a rendering his organization had created using balloons and shading/photographic software. “Why should we believe that your slide is any less of a distortion [than the architect’s rendering]?” asked Nathenson.

The final speaker was Montclair architect Ira Smith, who had been invited by Engage Maplewood to review the plans. Smith said that because there were so many deviations, it might “require a reconsideration of the details of the redevelopment plan itself.” He suggested further traffic studies and/or revisiting plans for trees and landscaping.

“The struggle can be long, but the more minds working on it, the better the outcome,” said Smith.

The board scheduled a continuation of the hearing for Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

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