The Maplewood Township Committee has selected three developers with experience in Maplewood and South Orange as finalists to redevelop the Post Office site. Town officials will interview the three on October 22 and will designate a final choice on November 5, after which they will begin negotiating an agreement.
The developers are: JG Petrucci, Co., which developed The Station House apartment building on Dunnell Road at the site of the former Maplewood Police Station; JMF Properties, which developed The Avenue in South Orange and was until recently the developer for the PSE&G project; and Sterling Properties, which also was involved in The Avenue.
“These three developers…have all committed to build the building that was approved by the Maplewood Village Alliance and that we have given approval to,” said Mayor Vic DeLuca at Tuesday night’s Maplewood Township Committee meeting. “There may be some slight modifications and that’s what the process of negotiation will be.”
The developers were chosen by a screening committee consisting of Township Attorney Roger Desiderio, Director of Community Relations Annette DePalma, and Maplewood Village Alliance manager Julie Doran. Before the October Township Committee meeting, the MVA will meet with and interview each candidate regarding the building design.
The town had to choose a new developer after L&M Developers withdrew from the project last month.
“All of them were impressive, and are very, very enthusiastic about the project and that it will be successful,” said Desiderio. The developers all have experience working with New Jersey Transit, which is important since the building backs up onto the train tracks, and also all are accustomed to building projects in “tight spaces.”
Desiderio said the project will move forward “expeditiously” and is expected to take 10-14 months to construct.
Meanwhile, the town previously extended the Post Office lease until it can move into its new retail space at 195 Maplewood Avenue; the letter carriers have already moved to a facility in Union. However, DeLuca said the town has negotiated that customers who need to pick up certified mail or packages will be able to do so at the Maplewood location.
“I can’t say that there won’t be kinks because we are dealing with the Post Office…but we are working with their customer service people to make sure that all these transitions…do not affect our residents in any negative way,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca told The Village Green in an earlier interview on Tuesday that the retail portion of the property will likely be “significantly” cut back from its original 7,000 square feet, because it is difficult to fill that space without a large, anchor tenant such as Kings.
Also, he said, part of the retail space is underground. “Without Kings the basement is harder to fill,” he said. That area could conceivably be turned into underground parking, if a developer chooses.
A maximum of 25 rental apartments are allowed according to the township’s approved design. A developer could choose to build fewer than 25, but not more, said DeLuca.
DeLuca said a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) “has been discussed” by the township. Because the site is in an area in need of rehabilitation, a PILOT could by law only be granted for a maximum of five years, he said.
Asked why a PILOT would be considered given that the property is on a prime piece of land in the middle of a thriving business district, DeLuca said, “You have to structure deals to make them happen…the goal is to build a building that will last a very long time and be an asset to the Village.”
The town will take into account the purchase price of the property, the developer’s affordable housing contributions and the improvements they will make to the property and determine if financial incentives are necessary. “We have to weigh if giving an incentive is worth the building being built,” said the Mayor.
He said although the property was well-located, it is also relatively small and the Village has strict zoning laws that place a number of constraints on its development. “Usually [a municipality] would let [a developer] build more apartments,” he said, contrasting it to the example of The Gateway in the heart of downtown South Orange, which has 57 apartments on three floors and retail on the ground floor.
To determine the property’s value, the town’s tax assessor will look at the anticipated monthly rental income on the apartments and the square footage of the retail space.
“Then negotiations begin,” said DeLuca.