Officials meet with residents to discuss Toomey’s redevelopment

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

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood Township Committee members met with residents to discuss the newest draft of a redevelopment plan for the former Toomey’s Automotive site on Baker Street. At the meeting, held at The Woodland on on Jan. 10, Mayor Vic DeLuca highlighted concerns that neighbors voiced at a November meeting and noted the changes that resulted from those concerns. The changes were implemented by planner Paul Grygiel, of the planning firm Phillips Preiss Grygiel Planning and Real Estate Consultants LLC.

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. DeLuca said the township had looked at a similar redevelopment site and ordinance in Summit and modeled the Maplewood plan after that.

“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.”

The height of the building was also a topic of discussion at the meeting. The maximum height allowed will be 30 feet, and 47 feet in “stepped back” components of the building. Three stories will be permitted, and enclosed areas of the roof are limited to 15 percent of the surface. Any enclosed area of the roof will not be considered another story. DeLuca said there have been discussions about building a patio on the roof for residents of the apartments that will be built on the second and third floors of the building.

DeLuca also talked about sustainability. The plan says that “building and site design in the rehabilitation area shall seek to minimize environmental damage, strain on municipal utilities and impact on adjacent uses.”

The plan emphasizes reduced energy and water use, as well as the use of sustainable, renewable, nontoxic and locally produced materials. The plan asks for improved indoor air quality and environmentally conscious site planning.

While the plan also asks that the project meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, DeLuca said that meeting LEED requirements can be expensive. Because of this, the plan allows for the developer to participate in Energy Star, a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to the plan, “Energy Star aims to reduce costs and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices for residential buildings.”

DeLuca said that as the developer begins work on the site, the town will be in discussions about how sustainable materials will be used.

“We want to meet LEED requirements, but we recognize that it’s expensive,” he said. “For these smaller projects, it makes it economically difficult. We’re leaving it open to using Energy Star, and when we get to the development stage, we’ll see what they’re thinking about doing.”

The style of the building is included in the plan, and it says that there are no specific style requirements the project must meet. The building should be compatible with the architecture around it, and the building should be oriented toward the street. Balconies will not be permitted as part of the apartments on the second and third floors.

“We haven’t been happy with some of the balconies that have been built around town,” DeLuca said. “Some of them are French, some of them protrude out and they don’t look the same so we decided not to allow them.”

DeLuca also spoke about the location of the lot and how that might affect the design of the building. The zoning of the area makes the Toomey’s site the last retail lot in the area. The office building next door is designed to be a transition into residential neighborhoods.

When the redevelopment plan is finalized, the Design Review Committee, which is part of the Maplewood Village Alliance, will approve it and send it to the MVA. It then goes through the different levels of the township government.

“The Design Review Committee can give additional input and add members to the committee based on expertise,” DeLuca said. “The Village Alliance approves it and then it goes to the Planning Board. There members of the public can testify and ask questions of the developers.”

Following a discussion of the plan and input from the public at its Jan. 15 meeting, the Township Committee is expected to introduce the plan on first reading Feb. 5. If it is approved, the Planning Board will review the plan at its meeting on Feb. 12. The final step will be a public hearing held before a final vote at the Township Committee meeting scheduled for Feb. 19.