MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Maplewood Planning Board has approved the construction of a three-story mixed-use apartment and restaurant building on the site of the former Verjus Restaurant on Springfield Ave.
The WDC Investments project at 1782-1792 Springfield Ave. was unanimously approved on Tuesday evening. Plans call for demolishing the old building and constructing a more than 3,300 square foot ground floor restaurant / pub and a set of 12 apartments on the second and third floors.
Project developer Wayne Crowell told the board he plans to develop, own and operate the first floor pub. The goal is to have a neighborhood vibe, maybe like an Irish pub, serve American food and show sports matches, he said. The building will be part of Springfield’s pedestrian-retail area, and Crowell said he plans it could be a gathering place for neighbors. The design imagery included the name “Avenue Pub,” although Crowell said it was not clear if that would be the final name.
He pointed to his past ventures, which include owning, building and developing former O’Reilly’s on Millburn Avenue, and formerly owner of Champ’s sports bar in Union. He said he hoped to do justice to the reputation of Verjus, the award-winning contemporary French restaurant which closed in October. Crowell said he closed the one-story building in April.
“I come to you with experience. I come to you with a history of successful projects in Maplewood and hope to have a reputation for what I say, I do, ”said Crowell, a former Maplewood fire chief. “I’m not in any way trying to do something wrong with the neighborhood, but only to upgrade the building.”
He said if all goes according to plan, it will be able to start demolition in the next two months and open within 12 months.
The bulk of the apartments will be one-bedroom, approximately 700 square feet, with a three-bedroom at just over 900 square feet. This unit, along with another bedroom, would be designated as affordable housing under local ordinances to include low-income housing in new construction.
The plans call for a total of 24 parking spaces, half of which would go to the 12 apartments. The rest would be for the public, which Crowell conceded meant a net loss of parking for the public in Verjus, which had 24 spaces for customers. Eight parking spaces will be under the roof of the building.
The restaurant will be roughly the same size as Verjus, but will have a smaller capacity (99 people versus 110), due to the size of the aisles, bathrooms and other accommodation to ensure American compliance. Disabilities Act. Crowell said he waits for approval first before determining menu items and prices.
Several residents of Rutgers Street and nearby Harvard Avenue questioned parking availability and noise at night, especially on weekends and for families with young children. Residents are also concerned about the proximity of the new apartments, said Shirley Hollie-Davis, of Rutgers St.
“I’m concerned about people coming in, people drinking, people coming into our backyard, people leaving the pub and looking at our backyard from the apartments,” she told council.
Crowell said he was working closely with the Springfield Avenue Partnership, considering their ideas, including for the design. Architect Mark Carelli noted that the partnership suggested taller windows and design changes to suit the area’s urban feel, including stone and brick.
Nicole Wallace, chief executive of the Springfield Avenue Partnership, said the group supported housing the plan and maintaining a licensed restaurant on site.
“Having more people living on Springfield Avenue brings more people to Springfield Avenue, which makes it a busier street and also a safer street,” she says.
The Partnership Design Committee works closely to help finalize the plans.
Restaurant Verjus closed in October 2020 after more than 19 years in business, when chef / owner Charles Tutino and his wife Jane Witkin decided to retire.
Witkin, a longtime member of the Partnership, spoke in favor of Crowell’s plans at the meeting. She noted that having income from housing will make the business as a whole more stable. She said the original buyer’s financing failed in April 2020 because the lender was concerned about the viability of a restaurant building.
“Owning and operating an upscale French restaurant was like running a non-profit organization,” she said. “It is now crucial to have additional income from the proposed residential units.”
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