Morristown moved closer on Tuesday to making two-long anticipated green projects a reality.
In a pair of unanimous votes, the town council approved measures to purchase property at 20 Hillcrest Drive for a park and to hire a contractor to spruce up the parking lot behind town hall.
“My hat’s off to (Councilwoman) Rebecca Feldman and the council for pushing this through, to finally get this through to benefit the community and the residents,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said of the town hall project.
A resolution approved an $86,314 contract to Andy Matt Inc. of Mine Hill to construct a buffer area between the municipal lot and Franklin Street.
Plans by landscape architect Carolle Huber call for removal of light poles and brick pillars, consolidation of two entrances into one, installation of drainage, and planting of hardy shrubs and Eastern Redbud, Juniper, Ginko and Leyland Cypress trees to shield the parking lot from view for residents of Franklin Street.
For years, residents have complained that the municipal lot is an eyesore that gives town hall visitors a bad impression of Morristown. The buffer area is replete with stumps, dead trees, dead street lights and unmowed grass, according to Franklin Street resident Margret Brady, who said most of her neighbors have given up in disgust after a decade of political debate and broken promises.
“Whatever you do is a tremendous improvement to what we have,” Marge told the council.
Last December, the Mayor shot down a proposal for a $3 million “Healing Arts Park” spearheaded by resident Kristin Ace. She aimed to raise private funds to create a peaceful space with a labyrinth, amphitheater, sculptures and “bio-swales” to cleanse storm water runoff. The town would have been responsible for maintaining the park, a proposal that had been kicking around for three years.
“We simply couldn’t afford it,” said the Mayor.
The scaled-down plan should achieve many of the same objectives, Rebecca Feldman said. Most importantly, it should set a better example than the present configuration.
“Everyone who comes to town hall will see how we maintain our property and will know what we expect of them,” the councilwoman said. “We need to invest in our own property.”
Town officials could not specify how long the project will take to complete.
Marge was cautiously optimistic.
“I’m happy they’re doing something,” she said after the meeting.
But Rebecca might want to rethink this whole parkland thing. Morristown already is proving appealing to wandering bears. Police chased one down South Street in June. A few days ago, a bruin latched onto the scent of backyard-grilled salmon and followed it to Rebecca’s back door in the Washington’s Headquarters neighborhood.
“It was 15 feet behind my husband,” Rebecca said.
‘POCKET PARK’ FOR HILLCREST
The ordinance to purchase 20 Hillcrest clears the way for the town to receive $350,000 in grants from Morris County and the state to buy two wooded acres for a “pocket park.”
A house on the property would be demolished and replaced with some benches and mix of open space and woods for passive recreation, said Samantha Rothman of the town environmental commission.
“People can breathe,” said the Mayor, expressing excitement about what is potentially the first open space acquisition of his administration.
Officials could not say when the town will close on the property.
Both measures passed by 5-0 votes. Councilmen Anthony Cattano Jr. and James Smith were absent.
MORRISTOWN PARTNERSHIP BUDGET PASSES
In other business, the council adopted the $1.18 million budget of the Morristown Partnership. The Partnership oversees the town’s downtown Special Improvement District, comprising between 430 and 480 properties, according to Jen Wehring, the Partnership’s marketing director.
Businesses pay S.I.D. fees that fund street beautification projects, marketing studies and promotional campaigns.
This year’s budget is down 7.4 percent from a year ago. Jen painted a generally upbeat picture for the downtown, citing 40 new businesses, growing “pamper niches” such as salons and spas, and events like the upcoming “Here Comes the Bride” promotion in November for local bridal businesses.
“A lot of good things are on the horizon,” said Jen, estimating the downtown vacancy rate is under 4 percent, “something to be proud of.”
Traditionally, August is a slow month, the Mayor said. These events are changing that.
“It’s always good for our business district to bring new people into town, to show our town and get people excited about coming to Morristown,” he said.