Opinion: Growth with Planning

[Please note: A January 2017 version based on applicant testimony is available]

Growth In Maplewood Village Requires Planning, Not Just Accommodation

December 12, 2016

The Maplewood Planning board is hearing an application by the developer of the Clarus Maplewood that will allow inclusion of a farm-to-table restaurant in the building.   The restaurant is planned to be 4,000 square feet and could serve 150 or more at peak hours.   The proposal brings to the fore both the excitement and challenges of improvement and growth of the building stock within Maplewood Village.

The developer and restaurant owners are requesting accommodations in the public areas to the rear of Clarus Maplewood.   Two significant requests are the introduction of a grease interceptor (grease “trap”) under the roadway near the NJ transit tunnel and the construction of a 18’ x 25’ masonry structure to enclose nine trash and re-cycling dumpsters (to be located along the rail tracks behind Village Coffee, a distance south of the Clarus building garage entrance).

Maplewood Village, while not truly urban, does present many of the challenges typical of those in dense urban settings.  The issues of open space, provision of services (including waste management), traffic, and parking are all pressured as growth occurs.   At points it becomes necessary to review planning assumptions to set a direction, and clear the way, for on-going improvements.   The current proposal will jeopardize our ability to address improvements that would benefit other property owners, businesses, and customers in the future.

In 2014 the Clarus Maplewood developer was told to include a new “bypass” road to provide for vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian flow behind the structure.   In addition, a priority goal was set to enhance access via the southern NJT transit tunnel, creating a “gateway” between the Village and Memorial Park.   The co-location of a grease trap and a collection of large dumpsters in this area is counter to the original goals and detrimental to the public experience in this area.   Both require regular service, are difficult to keep clean and odor free, and disrupt traffic flow.   Moreover, both are for uses appropriate to a service area and not to areas meant for general public use.

The proposal is thus contradictory to two of the key public benefits set out for the project at the time the developer was engaged.   And even beyond that, the proposal sets an untenable precedent in light of the value, and future uses, of these common areas.  If businesses are to grow, and structures re-built and/or enlarged, the need for services will increase.  The solution proposed for Clarus Maplewood is too property specific and as such would destroy the common area if repeated by others in the future.  Our desires for the future of the Village economy brought us to this point; the current applicants should join a plan that anticipates future demands and allows the original project goals for the bypass and gateway to be fully realized by extension to the adjoining areas.

The Planning Board will hear this application Tuesday, December 13th.  Planning boards are not venues intended for creative design, but rather ones primarily for determining whether applications are permissible legally.  For the reasons outlined above, the question that should be asked first is whether the proposed design is the best that can be done for Village.   The Mayor has said he identified this particular restaurant owner, has helped negotiate with the developer, and is facilitating a liquor license.  His efforts should also extend to providing for a constructive design activity that properly serves residents and property owners alike.

The best result will be the product of a collaboration of all stakeholders.  Neither our leaders, nor the community, should feel compelled to simply accommodate the  request as it stands.


 

Dave Helmkamp has followed this project since its inception over five years ago  He is a founding member of engage-maplewood.org and the ohno60.info project.  Details on the proposal discussed here are available at bit.ly/StopTheGrease.

Back To “Of Grease Traps and Dumpsters

 

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This site chronicles the five year public process leading to the construction of Clarus Maplewood.   We recently re-arranged it to provide easier access chronologically and by topic area.  Check out the changes here.

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