By Margret Brady and Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown council on Thursday voted 6-0, with one abstention, for a CVS pharmacy proposed for the corner of Spring Street and Speedwell Avenue.
Next stop is the planning board, on Dec. 6. If the plan passes muster there, it returns to the council for a final vote on Dec. 13.
“It’s fantastic,” said Councilman Stefan Armington, whose Third Ward abuts the Speedwell Avenue redevelopment zone. “Everyone I spoke to likes CVS. I feel this will be good for the community, and will spawn the future of the redevelopment area. It provides a service to the community.”
Mayor Tim Dougherty commended the town planners, from the Jonathan Rose Companies, “for moving this project forward…it’s a positive step forward, a great project for Morristown.”
A key part of Thursday’s presentation was a 20-foot-wide pedestrian plaza proposed by local landscape architect Carolle Huber.
The developers also tweaked the pharmacy’s aesthetics to look a little more like the vacant car dealership it will replace; some of the old bricks will be incorporated into the pharmacy.
But CVS stuck to its plans for a drive-through window and wrap-around driveway. Citing “serious concerns about public safety,” Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman abstained from voting.
“They want a two-lane roadway between the sidewalk and the front of the building. No studies were done. There’s absolutely no data about the interaction between cars and passersby,” the councilwoman said.
The town’s Historic Preservation Commission has voiced reservations, comparing the proposed pharmacy to a strip mall more suitable for a highway.
“This is very far from your typical Route 10 pad site,” countered Phil Abramson, from Jonathan Rose Companies. “This is a new way of thinking about mobility and circulation, and a great way to test new concepts that would be too big a departure for public roadways,” he said.
The parcel had been earmarked for multi-story housing, as the fourth phase of a four-pronged redevelopment of the Speedwell Avenue area. But the council voted Thursday to reintroduce an amendment to the redevelopment plan to accommodate CVS.
Phil Abramson and Bruce Klein of T&M Associates, the traffic consultants hired to review the proposal, gave presentations. For those concerned about the pedestrian plaza placing people too close to roadways, pictures of the new Times Square and Herald Square plazas in Manhattan were shown.
The traffic plan had some minor changes. But the consultant explained how the realignment would ease congestion and improve safety, and enable future improvements. The audience learned about “Push Button Traffic Beacons” and saw diagrams of where they would be located in the pedestrian crosswalks.
Planners and some members of the audience contended that the pharmacy was better suited to the location than the auto dealership and a video store had been. Others thought just the opposite. One referenced New Hope and Chester as examples of what Morristown could strive for in its appearance.
Others felt the CVS design belonged in a suburban strip mall, not in Morristown–even though most people in the room seemed to agree that a pharmacy was needed in this area.
Even Ken Miller, representing the historic preservation commission, agreed that the redesign was an improvement. Still, he would have preferred the use of existing buildings on the site. He also made some suggestions regarding traffic flow.
Rebecca Feldman questioned traffic counts used by the planners. Councilwoman Alison Deeb said she had mixed feelings and wanted to study the proposal further. Others said CVS was not in a position to wait for more suggested changes.
Both Council President Michelle Dupree Harris and Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid liked the pharmacy plan and said it would be welcomed by those living in the area.
After much more discussion it was decided that many items really were the responsibility of the planning board. Councilman Stefan Armington serves as council liaison to the board, and was given instructions to express the council’s concerns to the board. But he will miss the planning board meeting because of a personal commitment.
There was considerable discussion about why the amendment included the former Blockbuster video building. This piece of the property adjoins the auto dealership portion that CVS wants to re-develop; that site’s layout will impact traffic flow of the entire site.
Margret Brady is a former Morristown councilwoman.