Questions to the Township Committee

summary from Inda Sechzer’s comments to the Township Committee, July 2, 2013

Why are you in such a hurry to sell and develop one of the most important sites in town?

Why do you intend to go to developers and not to architects? Developers do not typically have creative solutions. They typically use formulaic plans which are site-fit, much as, for example, a Toys R Us is site-fit from a standard plan. An architect would have a unique approach to the site and the town.

How will the actual construction period impact the existing businesses and parking in town? How many business do you calculate will go under because of this disruption. How many people will shop elsewhere during this period? Have you spoken to merchants in town about this?

We were told that the sale of the police station and subsequent building of the new residential units would have a positive impact on our tax burden. But I never saw any analysis regarding this. And it must be too early to see any impact as my taxes do keep going up. So again I ask—Will this new building actually have any positive impact on our residential property taxes and if so, to what projected level? Where is that analysis? And if not, then why bother disrupting the town to build on the site?

Should the town sell this site or rather retain it as precious public land? Shouldn’t we have a town-wide referendum on the sale of the property?

Hey, why not sell Ricalton Square too?

Should this site be developed as a building mass or rather as an extension of Ricalton Square? The concept for these new buildings, Station House as well as this new one come from a state program being heavily pushed called the “Transit Village,” which is essentially an urbanization of the suburb, the goal of which is to create a walkable suburb, typically in areas of ex-urban sprawl. However, we are not an area of typical suburban sprawl and we are already a walkable suburb. Half the town already walks to the train every morning. So what’s the point?

I have not yet seen a really stellar example of the transit village concept translated into reality. Built in South Orange, the units couldn’t be sold and are now rentals. Built in Morristown, they tower over the train station, totally out of scale for that area of the town. Those are but 2 examples.

Maplewood village center is too small and unique to handle the scale of these projects. This is an unusual town center that has no large thoroughfare cutting through as some of the aforementioned towns have. In fact, one has to wind through small residential streets to access the village center. It does not fit the typical profile.

Who says we need this? And why?

Have you all considered the idea of the town retaining ownership of this precious central parcel of land and making Ricalton square larger…maybe with a glassed-in winter garden in the middle, open to all, free and easy—now wouldn’t that be amazing! You could look at Bryant Park or Madison Square Park in Manhattan as examples. You could even put parking underneath the greenspace created. Then we would have a town that marches to it’s own beat! and doesn’t fall into the trap of this “transit village” concept.

As well, there is history on this site—I believe the post office site was the site of the first school in Maplewood built in 1869. Ricalton was the first teacher in town. How will this historic fact be woven into the project?

Finally, there seems to be a lack of transparency, communication and engagement with the public on this most important decision for the township. I speak to people I know who are long time residents like me—over 30 years—these are typically involved residents of this town, who when asked say—What Post Office Project? I didn’t hear about it yet.

Using Patch and emails reaches only a small self-selected sample of residents. They do not reach a majority of townspeople…I would actually like to know how many people are signed up for that township email list? How many out of some 20,000 citizens of the town?

So, how can the TC do a better job of keeping people informed and why do they not seem to endeavor to do so?

One thought: The town makes a great effort to send out snail mail—real actual letters—on a regular basis to inform us of our tax increases, our sewer bill increases and more (note there is never a decrease). This is never, ever done via Patch or via email. So, for such an important issue—after all this is our public property—why hasn’t the TC sent out actual mail to every single household in Maplewood informing them of this important project and soliciting their engagement in the process. I know I have not received any such mail.

You need to take the time to do this and to postpone your decision until the process of properly informing and engaging the citizens of this town is accomplished.

What’s the hurry here?…why does this have to happen over the next few weeks, with a meeting every week, including this holiday week when many are out of town? What’s the real agenda here?

A very important issue at the heart of this matter is the definition of what it means for you to be our town council—Did we elect you to make decisions for us, without consulting us, in a vacuum? Or did we elect you to make decisions based on transparency, on your listening to our voices and soliciting the opinions of those of us who elected you?

Thank you.

Inda M. Sechzer, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Principal, Managing Partner at Kander Sechzer Architectural Partnership LLC
Inda is a 30-year resident of Maplewood.

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