Citizens group rallying public for Honeywell trial on Feb. 18

Zoning trials don’t spring to mind as great spectator sports. But a Morris Township citizens group is trying to pack the (court)house on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, for its challenge of the township’s rezoning of the Honeywell tract.

honeywell logoThe case, before Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury in Morristown, comes almost exactly one year after Honeywell announced plans to move its world headquarters from the township to Morris Plains. The corporation aims to complete that move by 2015.


Lawyers for the Citizens for Better Planning in Morris Township will argue that the township’s rezoning of the 147-acre Honeywell site for mixed commercial and residential uses amounts to illegal spot zoning.

Honeywell, the township’s largest employer, has said public opposition to its redevelopment plansĀ  in the township influenced its decision to move to Morris Plains.

Township officials have defended the rezoning as a balanced approach to provide for controlled growth. If the rezoning ordinance is struck down, one official has warned, the township could end up with more than a million square feet of offices instead of condos.

Below is a statement from the citizens’ group.

Tuesday, Feb. 18 is our day in court. If you can make it, please attend– 9 am. It is important for our township officials to see your support and continued interest in the outcome of this case– whether we win or lose. Recently the New York Times has shown interest in our story. The trial may continue to Wednesday, Feb. 19, depending on how arguments go.

The hearing will take place at the old court house located at the intersection of Washington and Court streets in Morristown. Judge Hansbury’s court room is #21 and is located on the 4th floor. The guards at the front can direct you if you need help.

Citizens for Better Planning in Morris Township has continued to engage in its challenge of Ordinance 13-12C that allows the re-zoning of the Honeywell site to mixed use. Our contention that this ordinance permits illegal spot zoning.

Judge Hansbury of the Superior court of New Jersey will conduct a trial on Feb. 18 and 19, 2014. Testimony from expert witnesses from both sides will be given at this hearing. The judge will likely render an opinion soon thereafter. You are encouraged to attend.

Over the past few months, Daniel Somers, our attorney, engaged in oral depositions of Paul Phillips, Morris Township town planner; James Slate, township engineer; and Gordon Meth, who was the traffic expert in the case. Our community planner, Peter Steck, has also provided a report. Arguments will now be made in court.

What will be the outcome? You are invited to the court on Feb. 18 starting at 9 am. It is unclear how long the hearing will take but your attendance will help underscore the importance of this case to our Township.

On February 18 and/0r 19 we may find out how the court will rule. The court may rule that illegal spot zoning did not happen; in this case the ordinance may stand.

This will permit Honeywell to quickly sell off their land to developers under the mixed use zoning. It is likely we will see dense construction of townhouses on the Great Lawn and over the majority of the property, as well as a 13+ acre turf field and senior center at the back of the property.

Honeywell has indicated that it will continue to have a presence (likely 400 employees) in its existing buildings. Barring an appeal of this verdict to a higher court, it is likely that the land will be sold and developed quickly. We will then soon be witness to negative changes in our Township’s traffic and taxes.

If the court rules that illegal spot zoning has occurred, then ordinance 13-12C becomes null and void. The process of building another ordinance– one that hopefully fits our townships needs better– may begin at the Township Committee level.

Better outcomes in this case, as always, depend on your engagement in the process. Our Township also needs your opinions to be stated loud and clear at Township Committee and Planning Board meetings. Citizens for Better Planning in Morris Township will continue to require your financial support to continue our efforts.

I hope to see you at the Morris County Court House on February 18. — Michele Demarest

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