Post #315: The 7/1/2019 Town Council meeting

Posted on July 2, 2019

In a nutshell:  I’m not quite sure what went on with regard to the motion to rescind the approval of 380 Maple West (Post #309).  About 40 minutes into the meeting, Town Council recessed into a closed session, in order to consult with the Town Attorney.  That was supposed to last 10 to 15 minutes, but in fact took well over an hour.  There was lengthy discussion of 380 after they came out of that closed session.  I believe the upshot of all of that is that the motion to rescind the 380 Maple West approval was withdrawn — for now.  Instead, they will hold a separate public hearing on July 15, to consider that motion to rescind, after publishing notification of their intent to rescind that rezoning.This will be a joint public hearing by Town Council and Planning Commission.  The vote for another public hearing was 5-2, with DiRocco and Colbert voting against.

Separately, Councilman Majdi suggested that the Town begin modifying the standard commercial zoning rules — the zoning that would apply in the absence of MAC.  Basically, he would like to start improving our regular commercial zoning.  His suggestions were to require the MAC streetscape for all new construction (e.g., no front-of-store parking, wide sidewalk, buildings directly adjacent to Maple, “streetside cafe” setup), change the parking requirements (from 1/200 sq ft of commercial space to 1/250 — last discussed on April 3 2017),  and require parking lot landscaping.  But the commercial code would be otherwise unchanged, with a 35′ height limit.  This would be discussed at the August 19th Town Council meeting.

Commentary:  The claim was that everyone likes those aspects of MAC.  Not me.    I continue to believe that the “streetside cafe” space located perhaps 15′ from the Maple Avenue curb will go unused due to the unpleasantness of sitting that close to Maple Avenue.  I would further say that store-front parking is key to the success of some types of routine retail with short typical transaction time (e.g., dry cleaners).  That said, the idea of improving the existing zoning a bit, to give developers an alternative to MAC, seemed reasonable.  But the fact remains that larger housing-centered redevelopment under MAC is going to be far more profitable than smaller commercial-centered redevelopment under the existing commercial zoning rules.  Adding further restrictions to the existing commercial code will only make that differential larger.  In other words, I don’t think this will divert redevelopment interest away from building high-density housing under MAC.

A third item of interest is that Councilman Noble carried through with his idea of having the Transportation Safety Commission (TSC) examine the entire neighborhood bounded by Nutley, Maple, and Courthouse.  This is in light of the MAC projects that are approved (444 Maple West, 151 apartments plus retail) or maybe approved (?, 380 Maple West, 37 condos plus retail) that will directly affect that neighborhood.  Per the motion, they are going to convene the neighbors and look for consensus about what might be done to improve street safety in this area.