479 Valley–When The Proposal Trumps the Plan

In July, 2017 the Maplewood Planning Board approved a 20 unit rental apartment project at 479 Valley Street, across Valley Street from Columbia High School.  An archive of materials related to the proposal and the hearing (May, June and July) is available.  More detailed records, including transcripts and audio recordings are available on request at Town Hall.

The approval was problematic at several levels:

  • The resulting project is the among the most dense in Maplewood, at approximately 72 units per acre (Avalon Bay project at Boyden and Springfield Avenues is approximately 73 units per acre).
  • The local zoning, while not specifically limiting housing density, does have the lowest building coverage allowance of all the non-residential areas in Maplewood;  this project far exceeded that limit with a coverage of over 70% in an area limited to 50% coverage.¹   As approved, it is among the highest allowed anywhere in Maplewood.
  • The proposal added 25% more apartments over those approved in a 2007/2008 application at the same property.   The new proposal has apartments that are substantially smaller and the building overall provides far fewer amenities for occupants.  The original proposal was condominiums, this one is for smaller rental apartments.
  • The variance granted for building coverage, together with the 25% increase in rental units, suggests a potential addition to zoning in our commercial areas.  Currently there is no limit in our commercial districts for housing density–that is, number of units in a given building or on a given lot size.   In connection with this, it would seems worth re-visiting parking requirements, as many applicants today proposal buildings the have high density and then need to consume the entire first floor with parking.  This creates a dead streetscape as well as garage doors directly on sidewalks rather than being setback or concealed from view.
  • The new proposal is larger in land coverage (though a bit shorter), and provides a far inferior arrangement for traffic management at the garage entrance, creating aesthetic and safety concerns that were mitigated by the 2007/2008 plan.
  • The hearings occurred without a shared understanding among Planning Board members as to the relevance of the 2008 approval relative to the new application.
  • The application exposed a lack of vision for the immediate area, in relation to Columbia High School, the YMCA, surrounding businesses, and Valley Street itself which is undergoing significant development from this point north.
  • The application exposed a lack of concrete policy regarding duration of approvals and whether expiration of approvals should be a part of our zoning.
  • The hearing exposed significant weakness in the Township’s processes for public notification.  The legal requirement for notification included no residences other than owners of the units in the condo building immediately to the north, yet the project arguably impacts every family with school age children as well as abutting neighborhoods beyond the 200 foot limit.

Public commentary by two individuals was made at the July meeting, though no other members of the public were present.  Notes submitted by one of the speakers is available here.

Samples of materials submitted for final approval:


¹The zoning in the immediate area, referred to as “NB” (Neighborhood Business) and “OB” (Office Business) allows for 50% and 40% building coverage, respectively.   The “NB” zone is only used at two other locations in the Township,  the Irvington/Parker Avenue area and an intersection east of Burnett Terrace in the Hilton neighborhood.  All other commercial areas in Maplewood have higher building coverage limits.


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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 or by topic area.  Check out the changes by using the search box, or using the project overview.