The Morris Street and Speedwell Avenue redevelopments both received important, and unanimous, approvals from the Morristown council on Thursday that move them a step closer to reality.
A redevelopment plan was introduced for Morris Street and Ford Avenue, a project that calls for 74 rental housing units and up to 99 parking spaces on two adjoining parcels spanning 1.5 acres. The plan goes to the planning board on Oct. 25 for its recommendation, and returns to the council for adoption on Nov. 8.
If the plan is adopted, next comes an agreement spelling out precisely what is expected of the two owner/redevelopers, Leona Development LLC and Mountain Realty LLC. Lastly, the planning board must vote on a site plan showing the final layout.
Each parcel in the Morris Street plan will include four units of affordable housing. Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid questioned if there would be sufficient parking for all tenants; Phil Abramson, the town planner, said yes, based on industry formulas and two-bedroom units that are expected to attract singles, young couples and commuters who may walk to the train station.
Another question involved the maximum height of a former Bell Atlantic building fronting Ford Avenue. It’s two-and-a-half stories, even though the town’s zoning no longer recognizes half-stories.
Jay DeLaney, an attorney for the redevelopers, wanted to ensure that the full two-and-a-half stories can be renovated for habitation. Town redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino said it’s a reasonable request that is accommodated in the plan introduced Thursday.
“A lot of thought has been given to the way this site will lay out. It’s really a private/public collaboration,” said Phil Abramson.
The former scrapyard will feel “more like a neighborhood than a project,” he said, thanks to stacked units that will resemble designs seen around town, and diverse renovations to a house on Morris Street and to the former Bell Atlantic building.
The second owner came aboard last spring after attending a public workshop on the proposed redevelopment. Phil said the two owners will share costs of a $500,000 retaining wall along NJ Transit tracks at the rear of the property. Rain gardens and raised planters also are planned, to catch rainwater.
Usually, it’s a “heavy lift” to get cooperation from neighboring property owners, said Mayor Tim Dougherty, who praised all the players.
“They’ve done everything they can to make this a neighborhood that works, and hopefully it will spark more redevelopment in the area,” the Mayor said.
SPEEDWELL CLOSING NEAR?
The council also voted 5-0 (Council President Michelle Dupree Harris and Councilman Kevin Gsell were absent) to authorize the sale of former public works property between Early Street and Atno Avenue. The $3.5 million sale to Morristown Development LLC, a pivotal event for Phase One of the massive Speedwell Avenue redevelopment, could close by the end of this month or early November, John Inglesino said.
A few months of environmental cleanup would follow–the site housed a public works garage, after all–and then construction of 268 apartments could proceed, the lawyer said.
“They’re anxious to get going,” John said.
Negotiations continue on the cleanup cost. The town has agreed to pay up to $500,000, or 125 percent of experts’ estimated costs for the work. Both sides are haggling over the actual number and must resolve it to complete the sale.
The redeveloper may close simultaneously on four other parcels that are part of Phase One. These include houses on Early Street destined for demolition, John said.
Last October the council approved a Speedwell Avenue redevelopment plan calling for 812 apartments and up to 85,000 square feet of commercial space to be built in four stages.
CONCERNS OVER CVS PHARMACY PLAN
Phase Four was put into play last month when CVS announced its intention to build a pharmacy at Spring Street and Speedwell.
The town Historic Preservation Commission will meet with CVS planners later this month, commission Vice Chairwoman Marion Harris told the council. “Please incorporate our review into the process,” she said. Marion has been critical of CVS plans to knock down old brick buildings on the site.
As proposed, the pharmacy design, its parking lot and its setback from Speedwell Avenue create a strip mall effect that diminishes the “old-town charm” that sets apart Morristown from many neighboring towns, said resident Tina Wahlstrom. She compared Morristown to Lambertville, New Hope and Cape May.
Linda Carrington, who serves on the zoning board, asked whether a proposed internal roadway, accessing Spring and Early streets, would become a shortcut for motorists.