MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A community meeting to discuss the proposed updates to Irvington Avenue in Maplewood and the neighboring towns of Newark and South Orange was hosted at the St. Andrew Kim Roman Catholic Church on Parker Avenue in Maplewood on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
The presented plans are part of the Irvington Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project, which was approved by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders in July, with two resolutions allocating approximately $1M to the project.
“As a town, we’ve been spending a lot of time and money investing in Irvington Avenue. We have a lot of interest in making sure that the people in this neighborhood feel a part of the larger Maplewood community,” Mayor Vic DeLuca said at the meeting. “We want to make it a great place to both live and have thriving businesses.”
DeLuca said that Annette DePalma, director of the Maplewood Community Development Department, did a significant amount of the work to obtain the necessary funding for the project.
The improvements are in part the result of “Irvington Avenue: Creating a Complete Corridor,” an August 2014 project study completed by Together North Jersey, which partnered with Maplewood, South Orange, Newark, Essex County, the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce and NJ Transit.
“I wrote the proposal to get funding for the Irvington Avenue project via a grant application in 2011, which produced the Together North Jersey study, and we had architects, engineers and marketers involved,” DePalma said at the meeting. “Two years later, we produced a report. This is a bustling commercial corridor, but it needs a little attention and assistance, and we parlayed that with a federal grant.
“We applied for a TAP grant for phase two of the improvement, and now we have approximately $3 million to do an entire streetscape renovation. I hope to see everyone continue to come to the meeting and participate, as the project moves forward.”
In addition to local officials, Essex County Planner David Antonio also attended the meeting to explain the proposed changes, including their expected impact on the community once completed.
“We have $1 million for phase one of the project, which seems like a lot of money, but not when it comes to construction,” Antonio said during the meeting. “We had to pick six areas that will show the most immediate impact, and those are: Tichenor Avenue and Riggs Place; Fairview Avenue and W. Fairview; Waverly Road and College Road; Coolidge Road; Boden Avenue and Manor Drive; Putnam Street and Norman Road. The project will be mostly intersection improvements. It will start in South Orange and end in Irvington.
“The improvements include new curbs, sidewalks, benches, new street lighting and updated pedestrian crosswalks. The goal for phase two is to start in spring of 2020, and we are hoping for a seamless transition. Phase two will include street trees with planning pits, unified corner treatments, ADA-compliant curb ramps and high visibility ergonomic crosswalks. There is also an opportunity to place banners on the new streetlights and they will match the lights from phase one. We are looking to improve both the safety and the aesthetics of the area. There will be safer, brighter sidewalks, colored concrete and a distinct look and feel.”
Residents at the meeting asked whether the project could address the possible addition of bike lanes and other features to make the roadway experience safer for all, but Antonio said the project is focused on the pedestrian experience.
“During phase two, those who live on streets affected by the improvements will be notified via the county, but I encourage everyone to sign up for Nixle alerts, which is a service that Maplewood Police Department uses to notify residents of road closings due to construction,” DeLuca said at the meeting.
The township also has plans that extend beyond the two phases of construction and improvements to the physical aspects of the community.
“The town has hired a planning consultant to determine if this is an area in need of redevelopment or in need of rehabilitation,” DeLuca said. “When you just have zoning regulations, within their rights, a developer can come in and build whatever they want, and it might not be what you wanted, but we are still waiting on that report.
“The area under review starts at Hillcrest by Diamond Gym and goes around 7-Eleven and the parking lot, across from the church. Right now, we are only looking at the commercial area and not the residential. There will be vision sessions, hopefully, within the next six months. Our goal is that this entire Maplewood section of Irvington Avenue will be redeveloped.”
Photos by Shanee Frazier Eweka