Residents learn redevelopment plan for Toomey’s lot

The former Toomey’s Automotive building on Baker Street in Maplewood

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Residents met with township officials at The Woodland to discuss the possible redevelopment plan for the former Toomey’s Automotive Site on Baker Street, close to the intersection with Maplewood Avenue, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, giving neighbors an idea of what the former gas station and garage could be turned into with redevelopment. The property was designated as an area in need of redevelopment in July, and planner Paul Grygiel, of the planning firm Phillips Preiss Grygiel Planning and Real Estate Consultants LLC, was hired to draft a plan.

According to Grygiel’s draft, the objective of the redevelopment plan is to “permit new development consistent with the rehabilitation area’s mixed-use, transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly setting,” and to create a building that incorporates residential, commercial and mixed-use development, improving the pedestrian environment. The plan is intended to capitalize on the location near Maplewood Village and the Maplewood Train Station.

According to Grygiel, the ground floor of the building will be required to house a retail business. The plan specifies that retail businesses, not including thrift shops, pawn shops and check-cashing establishments, will be permitted on the ground floor. Restaurants, excluding fast food restaurants, are also permitted on the ground floor.

Residential units and offices will be permitted, according to the drafted plan, but not on the ground floor. The building would have a maximum of three stories and a maximum of 11 residential units on the upper floors. Parking will be limited to one space per residential unit.

“Maplewood Village has different needs than Springfield Avenue,” Grygiel said. “So there’s going to be need for restaurants, art workshops and those types of places. In my experience in north and central New Jersey, retail space like that is attractive.”

Parking was also discussed at the meeting, with Grygiel and Mayor Vic DeLuca saying that a parking garage could not be built because the lot is too small. A parking garage needs space to accommodate wider turns, which the site does not have. In the drafted plan, parking would be available to the residential units inside the building, as well as from the addition of several street spaces. Grygiel said that parking was not one of the major components he considered when drafting the plan.

“If you devote too much land to parking, you kill off the beautiful downtown you have,” he said. “On the other hand, how many times do you see someone drive around, not find somewhere to park and leave? So you have to find that balance.”

Grygiel said that not increasing parking would encourage residents to walk or bike to Maplewood Village, which would also lead to a more environmentally friendly downtown.

The materials that redevelopers are permitted to use are also outlined in the plan. Brick, stone or stucco have to cover a minimum of 75 percent of the façade of the building.

“Accent materials include painted and nonreflective metals, glass, aluminum, wrought iron, matte finish ceramic, slate, terra cotta, stone and wood clapboard siding,” the report reads. “Reflective materials, EIFS and other synthetic stucco, vinyl siding and vinyl clad windows are explicitly prohibited. Building materials should harmonize with materials used in surrounding development.”

DeLuca said that the site has to be cleared of environmental contamination, due to the oil tanks found underground from the former automotive garage and gas station.

“We’re not taking land and making it buildable,” he said. “This is buildable right now. This was a gas station and it’s not going to be a gas station anymore. It was an active use, and it will be active use again for something else.”

No formal action was taken at the meeting. Residents asked questions and offered their suggestions, which Grygiel and the Maplewood Township Committee said would be taken into consideration as a final draft of the plan is considered. DeLuca said, barring any schedule changes, the committee will vote on the first reading of the plan at its Dec. 4 meeting, and hold a public hearing and second vote at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Photo by Amanda Valentovic