A Shared View and Many Visions


Building Preparation During February

[originally appeared in the Maplewood/South Orange Newsrecord, February 3, 2016; this on-line version adds interesting background to the original.   Read this page through, and then check the “backstory” links for more!]  [View PDF and Download]

The Village Post Office became a foreboding and ominous shell after just one day of hazardous material removal last week.   Or so it may appear.  In reality, the steps taken last week are those required no matter the future use of the site.   Whatever you dream the site should, could, or will become the view today includes them all.

“Oh man, the milk is already spilled, and it’s about to get gross.”   I’ll forgive anyone for thinking that.   Yet I ask that you take one last look at that building as a player would.  The work underway prepares the site for demolition, remodeling, or expansion.

As a consulting engineer, I routinely find myself approaching similar topics from different perspectives.   The perspective is always that of my client.  For this project, today, my client could be a developer, an investor/builder, or the building owner (Maplewood taxpayers, had the sale occurred after Planning Board approval rather than before).   Let’s take a brief look at each.

If a developer added me to his or her team, the project would be constrained by the purchase price of the land (about $1 million), the local zoning, and the marketplace for sale of the finished project.  The dominant driver of the design would be how much could be built under the current zoning.   My client’s profit would rise as the resale value of the project rises.   Taxes would rise as well, as a small percentage of profit accruing to my client.  The project priorities would be made with consideration of sale within a small number of years.  (read backstory here)

 If I joined an investor or builder team that was evaluating the existing building shell, I would be told estimates of the potential commercial rent—ranging from $25 to $35 or more per square foot in Maplewood Village, equivalent to $375,000 to over $500,000 in rent each year for the 15,000 square foot building.  Many decisions would be driven by the future appraisal of the structure—which would range from 5 to 9 million dollars based on prevailing rates-of-return in our area.  The builder would purchase (or lease) the building and the land from Town, and renovate the structure with an eye towards the local market. (read backstory here)

An assignment working for the taxpayer/owner would be framed by the first option to sell the land and pay for demolition, and the second, of facilitating its reuse and collecting rent or taxes on the improved structure.  The taxes to be collected in both cases is a very small fraction of the Town’s budget, so I would likely be told that decisions can weight safety, commerce, cultural affairs, aesthetics, needs and desires of residents, and parking.  Indeed, any and all the factors that give the Village its definition,  utility, and health.   The taxpayer/owner would choose between financial benefit via collection of taxes or via long-term lease of the structure (as had been the case from 1958 to 2013).  (read backstory here)

As an engineer, I could be asked to help contribute to any of these outcomes, and what I’ve learned from real estate professionals and engineering review of this site indicates that all three could be a great success, for whoever my client is.

So if you happen to watch any of the remaining HAZMAT steps in the coming weeks, rather than shaking your head at what looks like an abandoned public nuisance, take one last chance to imagine the alternatives it actually offers.   And please bring those thoughts to the next important civic discussion you are part of anywhere in Maplewood.

[originally appeared in Newsrecord, February 3, 2016]

[View PDF and Download]

[To understand the experience of having a sense of place, read Cherish The Charm, including the re-prints of Newrecord articles that appear there.]

Read earlier Op-Eds here.

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[We survive on community awareness.  Please submit your email below for future updates.  Also, explore our site and vote at bit.ly/VoteVillage as a way to bid a fond farewell to the Village Post Office]

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