There was no green light for Whole Foods Market on Monday, but it got the next best thing from the Morristown Planning Board.
After digesting two-and-a-half hours of testimony, board members unanimously authorized their attorney to start crafting a resolution favoring the supermarket project.
If Whole Foods can address a few seemingly minor concerns raised by town officials, the company could obtain that crucial approval at the board meeting on July 24, 2014.
By early 2015, Whole Foods aims to transform a former A&P on Washington Street into a bright and airy modern grocery store–with a cupola, garage-style front doors and café seating for 50.
“That’s a pretty good sign,” board attorney John Inglesino assured the applicants, referring to the vote.
Signs actually were among the evening’s hot topics. Whole Foods seeks permission to revamp the store’s signage. In addition to large signs proposed for the front and side of the building, the company wants to spruce up the old A&P “pylon” sign–a sign atop a pillar–at the parking lot entrance.
From the audience, Council President Rebecca Feldman told the applicants she was excited about the project. But she urged them to scrap the pylon, to preserve the character of the neighborhood.
“Residents don’t want us to be viewed as just another exit off Route 287,” the councilwoman said. “The signs on the building are great. But a pylon says ‘highway,’ and that’s not what Morristown wants to be about.”
Mayor Tim Dougherty sounded a trifle exasperated by that, and by last-minute questions from his planner, Phil Abramson, about the proposed height of a sign. The Mayor is anxious for Whole Foods to open.
“We’re fortunate this site is not sitting empty,” he said. “The town will be served well by Whole Foods. We wont’ have a blighted site for years. It’s fortunate we’re a town that people want to come to, and we’re happy you’re here.”
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
The company, represented by attorney Robert Garofalo, agreed to several board- and citizen suggestions, from repairing the sidewalk to changing bike rack colors.
Whole Foods pledged to explore ways to reduce the site’s storm runoff, and to consider replacing a grungy chain-link fence at the rear of the property, facing a park, with the same stockade fencing proposed for shielding privacy of neighboring homes.
Abramson asked for slightly taller trees than originally proposed; the applicants were amenable to that, too.
The supermarket also needs special variances to reduce the size and number of parking spaces.
Each space would measure nine-by-19 feet–one foot shorter than the industry standard, though larger than spaces during the A&P days.
And the lot would have only 91 of them, instead of the 97 spaces there now or the 113 mandated by an in industry formula.
Fewer spaces should mean simpler, safer navigation through the lot, Whole Foods planners testified.
“This is not a major supermarket such as Shop-Rite, built on Hanover Avenue and drawing from a 30-mile radius,” said Jeffrey Stiles, a Morristown-based planner hired by Whole Foods.
“This is more on a neighborhood scale. It’s a much smaller facility, it’s going to fit within the character of this community, and fit within the character of that neighborhood…
“I think overall…this is a true betterment to the site, probably one of the best uses you can get without someone tearing down the site,” Stiles said.
JOBS AND CLEANUPS
The A&P closed last December after 44 years in town. Prior to A&P, the 20,000-square-foot building housed a Chevrolet dealership.
Renovations are under way inside the 20,000-square-foot structure. But town approvals are required for outdoor work on the leased two-acre site.
Whole Foods should bring about 250 jobs to Morristown, according to project manager John Patrick.
He could not divulge the company’s plans for a vacant dry-cleaning shop on the premises. An environmental cleanup is going on there.
Although the applicants had hoped to nail down board approvals on Monday, they appeared upbeat and determined to address the town’s quibbles swiftly.
“We’re very pleased,” Patrick said.