A group of Maplewood residents have launched the website VillageFacts.org in an effort to combat what they call “misinformation” about the proposed development of the Post Office site in Maplewood Village.
Paul Surovell, who is leading the effort, said that organizers were not necessarily proponents of the proposed development but were “upset about misinformation” and also “wanted to respect the process” involved in the redevelopment of the site which has been ongoing for several years.
“We feel that the issues have not been framed accurately and we also feel that not enough respect and gratitude has been shown to the many people involved in the process. We are sure their involvement has been in good faith,” said Surovell in a phone interview today.
Surovell is joined in his efforts by Carol Manning, Cathleen Mitchell, Mark Mucci, Mark Loughney, Dennis Seelbach, and Joe Pepe. Short bios of each can be found on the VillageFacts.org website. Surovell himself is well-known locally as a 38-year resident of Maplewood and as Chairperson of South Mountain Peace Action. (Surovell noted that his work on the VillageFacts.org fact sheet and website was unrelated to his chairmanship of the Peace Action group.)
Surovell, who spoke about the development at the Township Committee meeting on June 16, said that VillageFacts.org would not be incorporating: “We are a very informal.”
However, the group will be distributing fliers at Maplewoodstock this weekend (visit booth #26) and collecting only enough funds to cover the costs of the table rental and flier and display printing (about $500).
Surovell said that the group has met twice and has been corresponding via email. “We spent a lot of time putting together our fact sheet.” Surovell said the sheet involved two weeks of “fairly intensive research and tracking down every particular including all of the parking spaces in town. We think we’ve been accurate and fair. And in some cases we point out where there is a little bit of ambiguity.”
There are 12 arguments and “facts” or rebuttals on the sheet. Some examples:
There has been no public input and the process has been rushed.
The Economic Commission began discussing development of the Post Office site in 1997. In August 2011, the TC members DeLuca, Brownlee, Leventhal, Ryan and Profeta designated the PO property as an area in need of rehabilitation.” Three community meetings were held in 2012-13 where residents spoke. In July 2013 the TC approved the Redevelopment Plan and the demolition of the PO. During the entire period, residents have been welcome to speak at monthly and bimonthly meetings of the TC, Planning board and Village Alliance Source: TC minutes 4-7-15, TC website, PB minutes
The TC never considered repurposing the existing building.
This is likely true. Demolition of the post office has been the recommendation to the township since 2011 in order to complete several goals for the site, namely improving pedestrian and vehicular connections and creating a multi-story mixed-use building. At the many public meetings leading up to the Redevelopment Plan, no public comments called for repurposing or adaptive reuse. Source: Search of meetings found no references to repurposing or adaptive reuse.
(Read the full “VillageFacts.org Fact Sheet” here.)
Surovell points out that he has a “lot of personal connections” with the old Post Office building where he visited his post office box daily for years and spent many Saturdays setting up a table across the street for South Mountain Peace Action.
“The Post Office played an important role in my life, but at the same time if there’s something that could replace the Post Office that would enhance life and the community, that would be more of a priority for me.”
Surovell also said that VillageFacts.org did not have an adversarial relationship with Village Keepers Inc., the nonprofit group formed this spring to combat the proposed development. Village Keepers is now suing the town, the Maplewood Village Alliance and the developer of the proposed Post Office redevelopment.
“We’re not addressing them directly,” said Surovell, “although some of the arguments we are rebutting you’ll see those arguments on their website.” Surovell said that the role of VillageFacts.org was “not competitive” but was “just adding another voice. The sentiments we are expressing are out there but haven’t been expressed publicly. We’re looking to balance the discourse. We wish them well. And I’m sure that [former mayor and Village Keepers board member] Fred [Profeta] will wish us well.”