The Value is in Our Discourse

reposted from The News-Record, 6/13/2013

The Old Guy, Hilding Lindquist, asked us all last week “What is ‘value’ to the township?” Gus’ question was posed in connection with the Post Office re-development in Maplewood Village. It arose as he was reading the first of nine goals shown in the Draft Re-development Plan: “Respect the existing character of Maplewood Village and the land use context of the rehabilitation area while optimizing its value to the Township.”

Gus points out that the Plan is silent as to what is meant by “value”, and argues that value can be measured in a variety of ways. Of course, the notion that comes first to mind for many is “maximum sales price”, yet his article makes it clear that other metrics may also be important.

The good news is that while defining value may be complex, we already know where to find the answer: value can always be found in robust public discourse. It will only be through an open discussion of goals and options that we as a community can understand what values we wish to assign to this essential publicly owned land that will soon be sold to developers.

Early in 2012 two meetings were held at which the public offered a variety of comments and ideas regarding the three lots totaling 33,000 square-feet that extend from Ricalton Square to the Village Café. This past April, over a year later, the Plan author presented the Township’s current thinking at a third public meeting. A draft Plan was issued in May, and the Planning Board has met twice to review it and consider comments. An updated draft will be issued prior to the June 18th Township Committee meeting. *

Yet, as the progress continues and we approach the mid-July approval of the Plan by the Township Committee, it has become clear that a majority of the public is unaware of the Plan contents or the impact it will have on the types of proposals developers may submit. Indeed, in the first six days of June over 320 people signed a petition asking the Township to support a public forum where the contents and intent of the Plan can be presented before it is adopted as an ordinance. The petition can be found at www.engage-maplewood.org.

It is at such a forum that we will find the answer to Gus’ question. The public provided comments last year, and now it is time for the public to assess the extent to which the Plan reflects their thoughts. The dynamic possible in an open dialog between community members and the Plan’s authors is the only way for us to collectively determine if the value we assign to this property is reflected in the Plan. When that is established we will have a clearer set of priorities that we can expect our elected officials to use in guiding them when the proposal process begins.

The technical review that the Plan has undergone to-date, with contributions from many people in official, appointed, and contracted positions, has led to continual improvements. It is a good document, yet it is a great many steps removed from the inputs provided by the public 15 months ago at those early meetings. A public forum to discuss the Plan’s contents and its intent is an opportunity to reach consensus on the preferred appearance, functionality, and relationship of a development to Maplewood Village--before proposals are solicited.

So rather than “pause” as Gus suggested, let us “pause and engage”. The true value of this property to all of us will only be found in a robust and public discourse.

Dave Helmkamp is a founding member of Engage Maplewood, a community initiative to explore the gaps in the effectiveness of our public discourse and look at existing and new approaches to reduce them.


* The new draft was released June 10th. Read it here.