Maplewood South Orange

UPDATE: Maplewood to Hold Hearing & Final Vote on Toomey Site Redevelopment Plan March 19

Updated February 19, 2019: The hearing and final vote on Ordinance 2943-18: Adopting a Redevelopment Plan for 104 Baker Street has been moved from February 19 to March 19 because the Maplewood Planning Board was unable to review and comment on the redevelopment plan due to the cancelation of its Feb. 12 meeting.

The Maplewood Township Committee will hold a hearing and take a final vote on an ordinance adopting a redevelopment plan for 104 Baker Street — the former Toomey’s Automotive site — at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, at Town Hall.

When the ordinance was introduced on Feb. 5, several members of the community voiced concerns about the plan. Nearby resident Renee Wills felt that some of the proposed parameters for a multi-use development were out of character for the area, would place an additional undue burden on parking, and allowed for a building that was too high. Wills wanted to know if a tax abatement would be available to a developer and who would be responsible for environmental remediation. Wills was also critical of the Township’s outreach process for disseminating information about community meetings.

Wills said that beyond her concerns about the size and impact of the redevelopment plan on the immediate neighborhood, she felt that it would impact the town as a whole: “What is our town about and what is it going to look like?”

Baker Street business owners also expressed concern over the potential negative impact of another construction project on the commercial health of the street.

See the Feb. 5 Township Committee meeting video here. Public comment begin at about 38:00. Renee Wills takes the microphone at about 51:00.

See Village Green’s reporting on the introduction of the ordinance here:

Plans to remove the last vestiges of an automative use in Maplewood Village are moving forward, as .  the Maplewood Township Committee will be introducing Ordinance 2943-18: Adopting a Redevelopment Plan for the former Toomey’s automotive site in Maplewood Village at its February 5 meeting.

After two community meetings soliciting feedback, the Township is looking to adopt a plan (see below) that allows for a mixed use development at 104 Baker Street. However, not all community members are pleased with the plan, despite a reduction in the allowable height of any proposed development.

“In the final plan we lowered the height to 37 feet from 47 feet based on community concerns,” Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca told Village Green. “It is still three stories – first story is retail space and parking, 2nd story is for possible commercial space and apartments and 3rd story is for apartments.” DeLuca said than a development conforming to the plan would “likely be 10 or 11 apartments and about 1,800 square feet of retail space.”

In fact, the Maplewood Township Committee had originally planned to introduce the ordinance for approval of the Redevelopment Plan at its December 4, 2018 meeting (with a hearing and final vote on December 18), but, according to DeLuca, “We decided to work more on the proposed plan before introducing it. Some of the items that came up in the [November 19] community meeting need to be reviewed and/or clarified before the TC considers the plan.” The Township also hosted a second community meeting presenting and soliciting feedback on the plan on January 10.

Besides reducing the height, the Township also made changes to the allowable uses. According to News-Record coverage of the January 10 meeting, “The first change to the plan made clear that retail space would only be allowed on the first floor of the redeveloped building, and active use would not be permitted. Banks and real estate offices would be considered active-use retail businesses. Restaurants will be allowed, excluding chain restaurants.”

“There was some concern that we would allow active uses instead of retail,” DeLuca said at the meeting. “We made it clear that that is not allowed. There will be 1,800 square feet of retail space and we want to make sure that no banks or real estate offices go there. We don’t think it generates the traffic we want in that area.”

In a  post on Village Green News & View Facebook group, local resident Renee Wills expressed concern that the plan would allow for a design not in keeping with the neighborhood and that the height allowance was still out of character with the area. Because of an allowance for an elevator shaft on the roof, Wills characterized the plan as allowing for a 3-1/2-story structure, rather than a 3-story structure.

DeLuca countered that assertion, telling Village Green, “There is a parapet along the roof of 42 inches to hide the roof top air conditioning units and vents. There also is a 12 foot allowance for the elevator on the roof. The elevator has to be set back from Baker Street and is limited to 15 percent of the roof area.”

Wills asked community members to attend the Feb. 5 meeting, writing, “This overdevelopment of our neighborhood could decrease property values and be detrimental to the fabric of our community. … Please come to this important meeting, hear for yourself what is quietly happening in our town and let your voice be heard.”

However, not all commenters agreed. Wrote one, “Hard to see how a mixed use retail/residential project will be worse for property values than an auto repair shop…and the nonconforming house converted to offices next door looks to be at least 2.5 stories tall. I’m all for it.”

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