Township Committee introduces Toomey’s redevelopment plan

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

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — On Feb. 5, the Maplewood Township Committee unanimously voted to introduce an ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan for 104 Baker St., the former site of Toomey’s Automotive. The redevelopment plan, created by planner Paul Grygiel of Phillips Preiss Grygiel Planning and Real Estate Consultants LLC, has gone through several revisions following public meetings and feedback from residents.

The plan allows for retail space on the first floor of the building, which will replace the current building that is slated for demolition. The upper two floors would contain up to 11 residential apartments, each of which would have a minimum of one parking spot and a maximum of 1.5 parking spots.

“Just to be clear, we did change the height of the building from 47 feet initially to a maximum of 37 feet. There is an allowance for up to a 12-foot elevator on the roof, to bring people to the roof in case there was a rooftop patio,” DeLuca said at the meeting. “That is not another story, that is just an enclosure around the elevator and that can’t be more than 15 percent of the roof area and that has to be set back from the Baker Street.”

A few residents attended the meeting to ask questions and ensure their voices were heard.

“Maplewood is a town that is known for being diverse, inclusive, convenient to New York City and the Midtown Direct train, but it’s also known for its charming village, for that small town feel,” resident Renee Wills said at the meeting. “We need to make sure that the decisions that we make for the future will also preserve what makes us great from the past.”

Wills, who lives less than a block from the Toomey’s site, remains concerned that a three-story building does not fit the area. She reminded the Township Committee that the Toomey’s site is in a transitional area between business and residential properties and that there are no other buildings as high in the area. She also asked that the committee ensure that the building look attractive from all vantage points.

Wills also expressed concerns that the redevelopment of that site will negatively impact parking in the village and will add traffic.

Committeeman Dean Dafis, who liaises with the Maplewood Village Alliance, responded that the issue in the village isn’t parking spaces, but parking management. He said that this redevelopment is not likely to greatly affect that.

“What we need to do, and what all the experts are going to tell us to do, no one’s gonna like,” Dafis said, saying that the MVA has hired a traffic consultant to look into the issue, who told them, “you may not have a parking problem; you certainly have a traffic-management problem. Because our parking is such that you can park in a spot and stay there for four hours, so we’re not moving cars around, so when you need a spot, you can’t get one, and let’s face it, when you’re parking somewhere around 4:30 or 5 o’clock, it’s gonna stay all night, so traffic management is a very critical thing that we need to talk about.”

Dafis also said the traffic consultant had suggested a parking deck. “You just talked about how offended and enraged you are about this possible building going up in the garage, the former gas station that you live next to. I ask you, if we were to build a parking deck, a desperately needed, empirically proven parking deck in our precious, charming village, what would you say?” Dafis said. “So we have to balance these things and we are looking into it.”

Dafis added that a solution may be looking into paid parking in the village, as now, thanks to modern technology, the town would no longer need to install “ugly” parking meters for payment, but could centralize payment at a single kiosk.

Wills also questioned whether the township is considering giving the redeveloper a tax abatement, such as a payment in lieu of taxes, or a PILOT. DeLuca said that this would be discussed with the developer and that the town would likely make an application for a five-year PILOT.

Resident Dave Helmkamp also spoke at the meeting, asking the township to provide some visuals to go along with the redevelopment plan, making it more accessible to residents.

“I’ve long felt that our process for these types of things is unnecessarily back-end focused; the public is engaged later than ideal. But that hasn’t been so much the case here; this has been an improvement,” Helmkamp said. “But I think what’s sorely missing is visuals of contents and visual tools.”

Helmkamp also asked for clarification on whether residents would be involved with the MVA process of reviewing the site plan. DeLuca responded that MVA meetings are open to the public and that when the MVA does its design review of the plan, the township will encourage the alliance to add residents and other local experts to its design review committee.

Baker Street business owner Louis Toledo expressed concerns that the construction period would negatively impact area businesses.

“We recently just recovered from a construction project there, where every business took a loss at the time of the construction,” Toledo said, adding that several businesses went out of the business around that time. “I just want you to keep in mind that it will have an impact on the small businesses on the block, because it did last time.”

DeLuca responded that, before construction begins, the township will hold a construction meeting to address all concerns and find possible solutions.