Morristown master plan: Really, really, really close to passage

Video by Abby Semple for


Morristown Moving Forward, the town’s revised master plan, moved within sight of the goal line on Tuesday after more than a year of talking and tinkering.

“We’re fine-tuning an already great town,” Phil Abramson, the town planner, said after being grilled by residents for nearly three hours at a planning board meeting.

Anita Lewis steps up to the front of the camera of MG's Abby Semple. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Anita Lewis steps up to the mic…in front of the camera of MG’s Abby Semple. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Board Chairman Joe Stanley postponed a vote to approve the document for one more meeting, so neighboring towns can be apprised of final tweaks.  A special meeting is anticipated within weeks.

“I’m very happy with the public turnout. They asked great questions,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty, praising the town’s planning consultants, Topology NJ, for “phenomenal work” on the 146-page plan. 

The Mayor stressed that it’s only a guide, a blueprint for zoning ordinances that the town council must craft in coming months. “This is just the beginning,” he said.

One change made on Tuesday at the behest of residents involved the 121-year-old Peck School. The new master plan had proposed carving its 14-acre tract into two zones–residential and mixed use. The mixed use would have given the private school greater leeway in developing its property along South Street.

But neighbors have a contentious relationship with Peck, and they swayed town planners to revert to the existing all-residential zone. That zoning is restrictive; the school must obtain use variances for any major development.

“Thank you for doing what you did tonight,” said former Mayor Jay DeLaney, who lives near Peck.

Susan Gruel, a planner for the school, was not so pleased. Calling Peck “an asset to the community that’s been here forever,” she accused the town of “ad hoc zoning.”

Video by Abby Semple for

On another front, Phil Abramson sought to dispel public assertions that the master plan authorizes Morristown Medical Center to expand.

“We are not expanding the hospital zone,” he said.

A Hill Street resident objected to allowing four-story buildings (six stories if plazas, parking or other “public benefits” are added) at the old lumberyard at Morris and Elm streets, as proposed. Ken Hoffman predicted commercial developers will rush in, marring a venerable neighborhood.

morristown moving forward draft nov 2013

Others voiced opposition to extending South Street’s three-story heights all the way to the Madison Avenue intersection.

Still others expressed concerns about property taxes shooting up if development is skewed too heavily towards residential units instead of retail and business.

Foote’s Pond and other local waterways need dredging to remain ecologically viable, added another resident who wanted to see more environmental issues incorporated into the plan.

There were a few memorable exchanges.

Christine Conti-Collins, owner of a 40 Park luxury condo and critic of the Mayor, complained that only the Mayor’s designees will get tapped for a master plan advisory committee.

“It’s good to be the Mayor,” Mayor Dougherty shot back.

Margret Brady, a critic of the master plan, urged officials to preserve the town’s neighborhoods. Noting how Morristown’s grand Victorian homes sprouted near rail lines of yesteryear, Marge said the town should zone for more residential development near the train station.

“It’s one of the most important things you can do,” said the former councilwoman.

Preserving neighborhoods has been a primary goal of the extensive master plan process, according to Phil Abramson. The flip side of that, he said, is identifying appropriate places for growth–like the train station area, and major avenues.

Morristown Moving Forward attempts to accommodate such growth using something called form-based planning. It’s more flexible than traditional zoning, which narrowly and rigidly defines what can go where, Phil said.


Morristown planning board listens as Mayor Tim Dougherty comments. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Morristown planning board listens as Mayor Tim Dougherty comments. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A large crowd peppered the planning board with questions and comments about the pending master plan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A large crowd peppered the planning board with questions and comments about the pending master plan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin









  1. Margret Brady says:

    A major point made by the planners was that the language of the plan was changed to permit the council to make further corrections when drafting the new zoning ordinance. Many other corrections were made and explained for the first time last night, when a sheet of some of those changes was handed out.
    The Road categories were changed so that description of the blue and orange roads will be switched. In other words, before last night, the blue roads were in the B category. They will now be C. The C roads will become B roads. That still needs more study.
    The Planners also agreed to ID more historic property, after a citizen pointed out that the Robert Tracey Veterans Park was now in an office zone. That’s a good thing. After I got home, I noticed that the historic Presbyterian Church Cemetery had be rezoned for high intensity use. I’m sure that was not intended.
    It was very important to grant the residents an opportunity to ask questions, that a number of corrections were made and the flawed plan was not voted into law. They kept repeating that the council would have plenty of opportunity to fine tune the zoning when they draft the zoning ordinance but without the change in language added last night, that would not have been possible.

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