A year of quiet negotiations culminated Thursday with two well known local figures being named as redevelopers of a former Morristown scrap yard.
Peter Cippolini and Joseph Lobozzo, principals of Leona Development LLC, got the town council’s unanimous approval to submit plans to erect 30 “stacked townhomes” on about 1.3 scrubby acres between Morris Street and NJ Transit tracks.
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, whose First Ward includes the site, said she hoped the project near the train station will become a pedestrian-friendly model for other developments.
The evening also featured the rare spectacle of mayors past and present, from different parties, heaping praise on each other.
Mayor Tim Dougherty, a Democrat, applauded Jay Delaney, a Republican former mayor who represents Leona Development, for assembling a talented team of engineers and architects, and for working behind the scenes for a year to refine plans for redeveloping a parcel deemed “stagnant and unproductive” by the planning board back in 2006.
“They’ve put a very good team together,” said Mayor Dougherty, citing developer Joe Lobozzo for quality projects that included renovating the South Street building that houses the Origin restaurant. The developer also has built apartments on Dumont Place, and owns the site of a fitness center on Bank Street.
Jay Delaney thanked the Mayor for insisting on “due diligence,” and said the real hard work is about to begin.
“We’re locals. We care about the community. We want to go first-class. We want to make it happen,” the attorney said of the Morris Street project.
The team includes engineer Paul Anderson and architect John Van Lenten. Preliminary plans call for three, 2 1/2 story structures of 10 units apiece, to be built in three phases over about two years. The units would sell for around $300,000 each; some might be rentals, according to Steve Meiterman, operations manager for the project.
Morristown requires 12.5 percent of housing projects to be designated as affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents. Leona Development is contemplating meeting this obligation by converting other Cipollini-owned properties into affordable units.
Peter Cippolini said he looks forward to working with the town’s planners, Jonathan Rose Companies, who have a reputation for environmentally sensitive, pedestrian-friendly design.
“They’re very creative guys, and very passionate about what they do,” Peter said. “We’re leaning on them to guide us on what we do. Their input is very welcome.”
The property has no street frontage. It must be connected to Ford Avenue via Delaware Street, a private roadway that exists in name only at the moment. A home on Morris Street would be demolished to provide further access.
“It’s an odd site. There are some challenges there, but more opportunities,” said Daniel Hernandez, managing director for Jonathan Rose. He suggested the possibility of creating a “woonerf,” a European-style, plaza-like internal road shared by pedestrians and motorists.
The council designated the area a redevelopment zone in March 2007. The Cippolini tract is flanked by parcels that also are likely to be developed. Prior proposals called for more densely packed housing projects. Much of the internal discussion over the last year has involved scaling down this proposal.
A metal yard on the site closed in 2000, Peter said.
“There was no car recycling. They tested everything, and it’s pretty clean there,” he said. “We’re very excited about this project. It’s been a long time in planning, and it’s long overdue.”
Mayor Dougherty was so enthusiastic, he even gave a nod to his Republican counterpart in Morris Plains, Mayor Frank Druetzler. It seems that Mayor Druetzler dislikes the term “stacked townhomes”– which describes low-height units with stairways instead of elevators–and so he calls them “interlocking townhomes.”
“We’re going to use Frank Druetzler’s words and call them interlocking townhomes,” Mayor Dougherty said.