When Zoning Becomes Our Canvas

Friends and visitors often remark on the diversity of home styles in Maplewood—but did you know that the zoning on your street is usually the same everywhere? Maplewood includes some of the most architecturally diverse neighborhoods in the region, yet underlying the home designs in each neighborhood is a common set of zoning regulations.

This past week the Maplewood Township Committee enacted new zoning for the Post Office site in Maplewood Village. As is the case at any location in town, the zoning is a broad description of the types of structures and other improvements that can be built. It is full of requirements expressed as “at least”, “no more than”, or “desirable“. In other words, it provides for a range of design choices.

Whereas the person who writes zoning regulations thinks in terms of general needs and white “massing diagrams” that show the maximum size and shape of allowed construction, the design architect makes specific choices to arrive at the building he or she envisions. In the case of the Post Office site, the design options are many, including: height, square footage, numbers and types of businesses, location of store fronts, amount of public space, amount and location of parking, traffic flow, and number of apartments.

So indeed, we should expect a broad variety of choices when developers and their architects make proposals later this year. Yet for this development the Township Committee plans to review the proposals and choose one before there is further public input. Is this a problem?

In some ways, it is. This site, located at the center of town, is a canvas. It is public property at the most public of locations in our community. When construction begins we must be certain that the result will reflect the desires and values held by the community at large.

What could be the outcome if the decision is made behind closed doors? It would be a choice made by the elected and appointed members of the Economic Development Committee without feedback from the community. Maybe, in the worst case, it would be a choice that maximizes the goals of a “preferred developer” without maximizing those of the merchants and residents that visit the Village each day.

Engage-Maplewood was formed to explore ways to improve both the amount and the effectiveness of civic discourse within our community. Since inception this May, we have focused on public awareness of the Post Office Redevelopment Plan. Now that the plan is approved, the need for awareness has only become greater. If you want to understand the range of designs presented by developers you should sign our on-line petition, contact Township Committee members here and attend Township Committee meetings. And if you subscribe to our email list we will provide updates on developer selection and other news related to this important project. Let’s work together to make this site a great addition to the Maplewood!

The Engage Maplewood website is located at EngageMaplewood. The organization is dedicated to engaging the residents, merchants, and civic leaders of Maplewood.