By Kevin Coughlin
The attorney for a proposed Cambria hotel finally had enough on Thursday.
“For the opposing counsel to pull this rabbit out of his hat is pretty outrageous!” Frank Vitolo fumed at the end of an otherwise dry three-hour Morristown planning board hearing–his client’s fourth such hearing over the last year.
Vitolo got angry when it appeared the Cambria team would have to pay for yet another session because an expert witness for the Hyatt Regency Morristown–an objector to Cambria’s 117-room “boutique” hotel proposed for Market and Bank streets–failed to show up.
Harvey Gilbert, lawyer for the Hyatt, cited extenuating circumstances for his no-show planning expert.
As it turned out, the board insisted on continuing the proceedings to March 23, 2017, partly to allay Mayor Tim Dougherty’s concerns about Cambria’s loading bay.
“I think it’s going to create a nightmare” of backed-up traffic on Bank Street, Dougherty said of Cambria’s plans for only one delivery bay, instead of the four that town zoning suggests for an operation of this size.
The developers seek permission to exceed six stories (the Bank Street side would rise seven stories), to exceed 80 percent lot coverage (the proposed 86,000-square-foot building would cover the entire lot), to build closer to the curb than allowed, and to reduce parking requirements.
Morristown requires 214 parking spaces. Cambria wants to provide only 65, at the Dalton garage on Cattano Avenue. That’s roughly twice the number of spaces the hotel will need, according to its experts, citing data from a Cambria property in White Plains, NY.
VALETS, RIVALS, AND DATA
A valet service would shuttle guests’ cars to and from the garage, a round-trip of about 10 minutes, testified Michael Tobia, Cambria’s planning consultant.
“I believe this is the future of Morristown: Creative, shared parking plans,” said Tobia. With their cars parked off-site, guests will be more likely to explore Morristown on foot, becoming “walking wallets” for the local economy, he said.
Noting that Cambria seeks no special tax breaks, Vitolo also painted the valet arrangement as a plus, saying it would generate less traffic congestion than on-site parking.
Hyatt witnesses disagreed. Seth Schochet, vice president of Fifth Roc Jersey Associates, which owns the Headquarters Plaza complex that includes the Hyatt, said Cambria’s valet service could worsen traffic around the historic Morristown Green.
Yet astonishingly–given its objector status–the Hyatt does not consider Cambria a rival. That’s what Schochet said under cross-examination by Vitolo, who represents applicant Sunstone Hotels LLC.
“I honestly don’t think this will be competition,” said Schochet, testifying that the 16-story, 250-room Hyatt often is booked solid on weekdays, offers vastly more space for conferences and meetings than the proposed Cambria, and has a 3,000-space garage.
So why is the Hyatt an objector?
“We believe proper planning is essential to any project,” Schochet told MorristownGreen.com.
Hyatt traffic consultant Gordon Meth spent a good chunk of the evening poking Cambria’s plans.
Cambria will need 126 parking spaces, and its valet service will cause backups at two traffic lights and strain secondary roads, he said.
Meth further contended the valet service will violate a town ordinance that requires off-site parking to be within 1,000 feet. The Dalton Garage is 1,750 feet from the Cambria site, he said.
Under questioning by board members and Vitolo, the consultant said his conclusions were based on his critique of Cambria’s own traffic impact study, and on an industry guidebook comparing parking at 20 suburban hotels across North America.
On average, those hotels are about three times larger than the proposed Cambria, he acknowledged.
Meth did not study traffic or parking at the Hyatt, or at the nearby Best Western and Westin Governor Morris hotels. He was unsure if they were comparable to the Cambria, he said.
Town resident John Brady asked Meth if his traffic studies accounted for changing behavior–such as hotel guests leaving their cars at home and paying services such as Uber or Lyft to drop them off.
“I live my life based on what I see in data, and in patterns,” Meth replied. “I have yet to see data that says trends have changed dramatically.”