Morristown council approves CVS pharmacy by 6-1 vote

It looks like Morristown’s Speedwell Avenue neighborhood will be getting its long-awaited pharmacy.

By a 6-1 vote, the town council on Thursday agreed to amend Phase Four of the massive Speedwell redevelopment plan to allow a CVS pharmacy at the corner of Speedwell and Spring Street.

“A major corporation is investing in our community. When this is completely done, I think the community as a whole will be very pleased,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty.  He said he canvassed area businesses and found them eager for a pharmacy. CVS will bring convenience to shoppers, jobs to the neighborhood, and an environmental cleanup of the former car dealership and gas station, he said.

'IT'S GOING TO BE BEAUTIFUL': Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty urges council to support CVS pharmacy plan. Redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino listens on his right. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

'IT'S GOING TO BE BEAUTIFUL': Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty urges council to support CVS pharmacy plan. Redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino listens on his right. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

CVS also has agreed to aesthetic improvements, creation of a pedestrian park and donation of frontage for use as an extra traffic lane along Speedwell Avenue.

Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman praised the Administration’s efforts but voted against the amendment, arguing that a proposed two-way roadway between the pharmacy and the sidewalk will be hazardous to pedestrians accessing the building. CVS aims to shoehorn a “highway style store” into a downtown space, she said.

“I’m saying this is not good enough,” asserted the councilwoman, an Independent representing the First Ward.

'EVERY PART OF TOWN DESERVES BETTER' : Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman states concerns about CVS pharmacy plans. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

'EVERY PART OF TOWN DESERVES BETTER' : Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman states concerns about CVS pharmacy plans. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Councilman Stefan Armington, whose Third Ward abuts the CVS project, pushed for a one-way inner roadway. But he eased off when town planners cautioned that CVS might balk. Planner Daniel Hernandez of Jonathan Rose Companies advised that the planning board can consider the lane question during its site plan review, expected early in 2013.

CVS has expressed a desire to open its doors next summer, which would vault Phase Four ahead of the other Speedwell redevelopment stages.

While one-way traffic would be safer than two-way, Stefan said, the project’s merits outweigh the potential downside. “Clearly, it’s a good plan,” he said. “Everyone in the neighborhood wants CVS.”

“I’m kind of excited…folks in the Second Ward are pretty excited,” said Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, whose Second Ward includes the CVS site. She expressed hope that CVS will be the first of many redevelopers to transform the Speedwell corridor.

CVS has been negotiating with the Lotz family to acquire the corner tract that once housed a Lincoln-Mercury dealership.

Mayor Tim Dougherty endorses CVS pharmacy plan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Mayor Tim Dougherty, center, endorses CVS pharmacy plan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Objections to the plans also were raised by the father-son team of John and Anthony Cortese, who own a sliver of land adjacent to the 2.2-acre CVS parcel.

Theirs is one of four properties that make up “Part B” of the amended Phase Four plan, which now allows four-story structures with 36 residential units, 8,600 square feet of retail, and 36 parking spaces on the combined half-acre next to CVS on Speedwell.

All of that redevelopment will be “next to impossible,” however, without requiring CVS up front to share its driveway and parking, said John Cortese, who owns a Basking Ridge masonry company.

CVS Planning Consultant Michael Tobia prior to Thursday's council vote approving CVS pharmacy. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

CVS Planning Consultant Michael Tobia prior to Thursday's council vote approving CVS pharmacy. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“We’re stuck with the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” said Anthony Cortese.

The amended plan does call for a shared driveway and parking–“if feasible.”

If CVS eventually determines it has parking to spare, and if another redeveloper submits plans for Part B that seek the shared arrangements, the town can require such sharing, Daniel Hernandez said.

Right now, no redevelopment applications are pending from the Corteses or anyone else within Part B of the Phase Four zone.

“We’ve tried to create as much flexibility as possible in the plan, so future property owners can come to us” with their requests, Daniel said. The revised plan conforms with overall goals of the Speedwell plan and the town master plan, the planning board affirmed last week.

Rebecca Feldman laid out her concerns in a statement prior to the vote. It was her sharpest split with Mayor Dougherty, generally a political ally.  The Mayor said he respected opposing viewpoints, but countered with a strong defense of the CVS project. Here are their statements:

Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman:

Shalit’s Drugstore used to anchor the Speedwell section of Morristown’s business district.  The promise of a new “corner drugstore” at the heart of this redeveloping neighborhood certainly sounded good.

Unfortunately, CVS’ corporate office prefers to operate “highway style stores” designed mainly for rush-hour drivers and tractor trailers.   From all their months of hard negotiations with CVS, the Administration has done all THEY could to make the typical CVS store fit in to our downtown as best they could.  And they gained plenty of aesthetic improvements.  But what we are being told is a “cutting edge plaza, mixing cars and people together” is really a two-way roadway around a front yard along one of the busiest pedestrian sidewalks in our Town.

A rationalization is just that – a way of trying to make sense of something that doesn’t really add up. Like the property owners in a residential neighborhood who argued that sidewalks should not be built on their busy corner, saying, “Drivers will come around the corner slower if there are children walking in the road.”

There is not one landmark corner building in town that would be made better, more desirable, or safer by putting a roadway between it and the sidewalk.  Roadways running around the front yards of buildings put all pedestrians at risk, and EVERY part of town deserves better than this.

The Council expressed disapproval of the “vehicle activity” of the pizzeria/laundromat plaza just up Speedwell, at Flagler Street.  That is a front yard parking lot which doubles as a front yard driveway, too. The layout of this CVS plan is just another move in that direction, and will encourage nearby property owners to request the same cars-in-front uses.  Speedwell and its neighbors will be the worse for it.

There is a sense of desperation surrounding the way this decision is being made – a fear that a long-vacant property will remain empty.  In reality, within six months of our signing Mill Creek’s redevelopment agreement for the Early Street building, a buyer for this corner came forward.  It’s as if the “start” button was just pressed – and CVS is the smart to be the first to follow.

This is a terrific location for a corner drugstore – but put it at the corner, and the vehicles behind, where they belong.  Otherwise, in the future no one will care about “why” you rationalized putting a road right in front of this place – any more than they care about “why” Headquarters and Pioneer Plaza are so desolate — they will just know that it was the wrong thing to do.

Mayor Tim Dougherty:

 I respect everybody’s opinion, Stefan, Rebecca. I totally disagree. I would personally like to thank CVS for investing in our community. I want to thank our planners for the months on top of months on top of months of negotiating and working through this project.

I took the time a few days ago to go to every store on Speedwell Avenue and spent a whole afternoon up there. And the excitement with these store owners and these property owners for this project is beyond words. It’s phenomenal the excitement that’s going on up there. The people I’ve talked to walking there, the pedestrians, can’t wait for CVS. If you’re out there talking to the people, like I do, you’ll get the sense that I got, why it’s such a great project.

Now with all sites, you have to negotiate the best possible site plan. And I think they have.  I think Phil [Abramson, town planner] at the planning board the other night–Stefan, you missed it–I thought it was said eloquently.

Previously, when they talked about putting in five-story apartment buildings on that site, the way it was laid out right up to the street–what would have been built, as a result of that?  A seven-story parking garage on another side of the Second Ward… That’s what we would have got if we stuck with the plan.

And you know what? I think this site plan is going to be excellent. I think Stefan’s concern about the way traffic moves  is correct. But I think when you go to the site plan, and get an understanding of how the planners have explained it to me, because they are planners and dealing with how site moves, how pedestrians actually “teach” traffic that it’s pedestrian, I think it will work.

I’m very, very proud of what our planners have done here. I think for so many years I’ve been in this town I’ve heard how corporations and companies just pass Morristown by. And now we have a major corporation that wants to invest millions of dollars in our community–environmental cleanup of a site that’s a brownfield–that’s a benefit to our community.

Thank you for coming to Morristown.  I know this site will work and I know you’ll be willing to work with us, and I appreciate that. I know there have been countless, countless hours and days and months working with our planners. And I thank the council for the time they’ve spent dealing with this, and I’ll look for a positive vote for this one, for this project moving forward. Thank you.




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