Now the real work begins.
By a unanimous vote, the Morristown planning board on Monday approved the new zoning master plan– more than 140 pages of recommendations crafted from 13 months of meetings, input from hundreds of residents and approximately $200,000 worth of effort from professional experts.
Next, the town council must give these policies teeth by converting them into zoning ordinances.
Town planning consultants Phil Abramson and Daniel Hernandez expressed hopes that this can be accomplished during 2014. The process is likely to involve more experts, more studies and many more dollars before everything is tied up with a neat bow.
“There’s a lot of really good stuff in this plan,” said Stefan Armington, the council liaison to the planning board. “I hope to still be in Morristown when this all gets done.”
But officials savored the moment, sharing congratulations for clearing the first hurdle in the once-every-decade task of updating the master plan.
“I’ve been around here for 35 years, and this is the most professional planning effort this town has ever seen,” said board member Dick Tighe.
Our vision is to become the most welcoming, beautiful, healthy, resilient and sustainable place to live, work and play in New Jersey.
– Morristown Moving Forward
Board Chairman Joe Stanley said he has worked on other zoning plans but is “far and away the most proud” of this one, mainly because of the public participation that was solicited.
“We listened, we made modifications, and I think the plan is much better as a result,” Joe said. Board member Tim Murphy credited Mayor Tim Dougherty with setting the tone for Morristown Moving Forward, the name given to a process that started in January 2013 and included several public information sessions and a website for comments.
The Mayor thanked the public, the planners and board members.
“I like the way they’ve woven the town together…This master plan connects the whole town to the rest of the region” and reflects how “Morristown is a lively, vibrant place,” the Mayor said.
The document sketches a mobility plan aimed at making the town more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. It talks about a transit district around the train station, pays attention to “really attractive architecture” and outlines strategies for preserving the character of neighborhoods and smoothing transitions at their boundaries with other zones, said Phil Abramson.
“We’ve learned a lot about Morristown, and Morristown has learned a lot about itself,” said the planner, who began the project as a member of Jonathan Rose Companies and now has his own firm, Topology.
The Mayor even got kudos from the wife of a former mayor from the opposite party.
While early stages of the master plan were a little messy, “I think the residents were heard, and it truly reflects residents’ concerns to protect their neighborhoods,” said board member Debra Gottsleben, whose husband, former Mayor Jay DeLaney, was in the audience.
The master plan’s most persistent critic, former Councilwoman Margret Brady, said she appreciated the “tons of revisions” by the planners, even though “you had to practically beat them over the head with a stick” to achieve the changes.
Some zones have been combined in ways that leave unanswered questions, said Marge, who worries that the door has been opened to more densely packed high-rise development on the fringe of her Franklin Corners neighborhood.
“The council has a lot of work to do,” she said.