The Maplewood Planning Board assembled Tuesday night for a preliminary meeting regarding a proposal to build an apartment complex at 7 West Parker Avenue. The proposal, presented by architect Frederick Kincaid of Jarmel Kizel Architects, concerns block 16.01, Lot 32, where Gleason Cleaners is currently located.
The proposed 4-story building would consist of one floor for 59 parking spots, topped by three residential floors containing 40 residential units.
Planning Board members expressed concerns about how the addition of a new residential property would contribute to the existing traffic in the area, given its proximity to Valley Street and Columbia High School.
Gleason’s has been in its current location for 92 years and is located adjacent to the Columbia High School faculty parking lot. The CHS student parking lot is directly across the street. As Planning Board Chair Jerry Ryan pointed out, the property is essentially “surrounded by parking.” According to Richard Rubin, current owner of Gleason Cleaners, the area typically becomes most congested at around 8 a.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Board member Thomas Carlson indicated that if the proposal “returns full-fledged,” the board “might want to see a traffic study” of the area before moving forward.
In conjunction with a new building’s impact on vehicular traffic, the proposal also elicited concerns from Planning Board members related to its impact on pedestrian traffic. Karen Pisciotta mentioned that the single 24-foot driveway entrance to the building might not provide much visibility for drivers, which “could create difficulties” given the number of students walking and driving to Columbia.
In presenting the plans, Kincaid reported that the proposed building is 14 inches from the property line on the rear side of the property. This would require a variance since the typical required distance from the property line is 15 feet. This disclosure brought up the question of the need for a possible retaining wall at the property line since the building would back up to the East Branch of the Rahway River. Carlson also wondered whether contamination issues in the river, from chemicals used by the dry cleaners, might surface.
The applicant also noted that a parking waiver would be needed, as the Township Code typically requires 80 spaces to the proposed 59 spaces. Board members John Larrier and James Nathenson asked about the proposed tandem parking and lack of guest parking spaces, respectively, with Larrier commenting on the “potential of some issues” and “feasibility” of a tandem parking arrangement. Vice Chair Edward Bolden agreed with Larrier’s concern and observed that Kincaid may, in his opinion, be “packing an awful lot” into the space.
In response to Nathenson’s inquiry about guest parking, the applicant responded that the addition of an extra floor “could add another level of parking,” but would require a height variance. He also mentioned that, since the property is walking distance from the train, cars might not be needed or a jitney stop could be added nearby.
Pisciotta also noted issues related to elevation differences between the buildings.
Finally, Planning Board members expressed concerns that, given the fact that they had recently approved plans for a 20-unit residential property on Valley Street, another apartment building could serve to further congest the area.
Colleen Falconer is a Maplewood resident and senior at Union Catholic High School.