What Is Value?

Hilding “Gus” Lindquist - The Old Guy

A “Proposed Draft Maplewood Village Post Office Redevelopment Plan” has been prepared by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, Planning & Real Estate Consultants, “for an area known as the Maplewood Village Post Office Rehabilitation Area within the Township of Maplewood.”

The Maplewood Township Planning Board is far along in the planning process for the redevelopment of the Maplewood Village post office site and getting ready to submit the proposed draft plan for its formal introduction at a Township Committee meeting. Quoting the the Planning Board’s page on the Maplewood Township website, “[T]he Planning Board is authorized to review subdivisions and to recommend final approval to the Township Committee.”1

But -- hold your horses, folks -- a group has been formed that is circulating a petition to be signed by Maplewood residents asking the Township Committee to hit the pause button.

Sunday evening, June 2nd, I sat down and talked with one of the organizers of that group, David Helmkamp, about it at my request. David is a close enough friend for me to have helped him and his family and friends celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday over Memorial Day Weekend. I had asked David at the birthday party about the Village post office site because I knew of his interest in local zoning and development issues ever since we had been on the same side against the 7-11 convenience store that was built at the Shell Station on Valley St. just across Parker Ave. from Columbia High School. He told me of both the proposed draft being readied for recommendation of final approval and of the “pause button” group.

In our conversation Sunday evening, David informed me that the group met on Thursday, May 30th, at Morrow Memorial Methodist Church in Maplewood. It now has a name, Engage-Maplewood, and a website, www.engage-maplewood.org. The petition can be accessed via the website for signing. It reads:

The Petition

To the Maplewood Township Committee: I know the Maplewood Post Office is closing and the building is being torn down. I would like to be better informed regarding the Re-development Plan for the site. I request that the Township Committee convene a public discussion forum including a presentation covering: (1) an explanation of the specific provisions of the Plan and the reasons for them, and (2) visual examples of the types of buildings the Plan would allow (including elevations and massing diagrams). Ample time should be provided for active dialog with all attendees. I request that this meeting occur before the Plan is formally introduced at a Township Committee meeting.

I signed it online after David and I finished talking. He had informed me that there have been “a number of recent public meetings regarding the post office site. They were actually the first true public meetings to discuss the document itself as opposed to input ideas prior to the document. The number of people attending these meetings were somewhere between five and ten.”

I hadn’t gone to any of the public meetings and I was clueless as to what was going on, but I knew the outcome would affect me. I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist or politician to realize that what was done with the post office property would affect my quality of life here in Maplewood. That small hub of King’s, post office, Bank of America, and Village Trattoria is the center of my shopping universe. I go there almost every day. The design of the existing Village post office site is not particularly engaging. There is room for a vast improvement. As David pointed out, we have an opportunity to impact the direction of the Village. The last thing I want is for my quality of life to suffer if I can help it. It now looks like we can have a substantially positive outcome. It also looked like that in my lack of awareness and knowledge I was certainly part of the a vast majority of not only residents, but also the Village merchants.

David affirmed from his recent direct surveying of Maplewood residents and merchants that most of us are in the same boat. We do not know what is in the redevelopment plan, we do not know how far along the Township Committee is in approving the plan, but we know what is done to the Village post office site will affect us for better or worse.

After the public meeting on Tuesday, May 28th, David, with the help of others, including John Harvey, past owner of Freeman’s Fish Market in the Village, quickly organized a public meeting at Morrow Memorial Methodist Church for the evening of Thursday, May 30th. Over forty people attended on that short of a notice. I wasn’t surprised. The Village post office redevelopment is an import issue for many of us.

David surmised that the poor attendance to the Township’s public meetings—five to ten as mentioned above—was due to the ineffectiveness of Township communications. I agree, but that is a subject for another column.

The focus here is whether or not we should ask the Township Committee to hit the pause button. We should because it is obvious from the Thursday meeting and the number of residents signing the petition that there is a need to bring those who wish to have a say in determining the outcome up to speed on the issues along with an opportunity to voice their views.

For example, what does “optimizing its [the redevelopment’s] value to the Township” mean? The first objective listed in “[t]he specific objectives of the Redevelopment Plan”2 is:

1. Respect the existing character of Maplewood Village and the land use context of the rehabilitation area while optimizing its value to the Township.3

Are all the stakeholders in the outcome participants in defining the meaning of “value to the Township?” And herein lies the conundrum, What is value?, and How do we measure it? What is the Township Committee using as its definition and metrics? For example, (a.) Is it the amount of money paid for the site by a developer, reducing the property tax burden? (b.) Is it the increase in merchant sales because of an increase in customer traffic and Village property values go up? And if there is an increase in customer traffic, what do we do about parking? And if we do something about parking, do other dominoes start falling? (c.) Is it possible to get the highest bid on redevelopment that is not the most amenable to small merchant business growth?

“Value to the Township” cannot simply be the money paid by the redeveloper because it then could become a series of trade-offs defined by the redeveloper’s interests. Or can it and could it?

As the saying goes—and the petition affirms—we need to talk…with the Township Committee.