In hopes of goosing re-development of some choice-but-challenging real estate near the Green, Morristown officials will explore whether they can offer incentives to speed things along.
Their focus is three properties bordered by Market and Bank streets. They belong to gallery owner Harry Simon and include an undeveloped triangle at the elbow of Market and Bank; buildings that house Simon Gallery, a knitting shop, hair salon and fitness center; and a long-vacant structure that sustained a partial roof collapse under heavy snow last month.
An undisclosed entity wants to put an office building on the triangle, according to John Inglesino, Morristown’s redevelopment attorney.
On Tuesday the attorney recommended that the town council authorize a study to see if a special designation could move that deal forward and finally start transforming these oddly configured parcels, which pose challenges because of dual-level, dual-street frontages, multiple tenants and parking limitations, according to town Planner Phil Abramson.
The council voted 6-1 to direct the planning board to see if the properties qualify for a “redevelopment zone” designation.
Photos courtesy of Phil Abramson/ Topology. Please see icon below for captions.
At the moment, the lots share the same “rehabilitation” designation that was used to transform the Epstein’s department store into the 40 Park luxury condos and the Metropolitan luxury apartments. Luxury townhouses on DeHart Street and Maple Avenue also were part of that rehab zone.
The advantage of a redevelopment designation, explained Phil Abramson, from the planning consulting firm Topology, is that it enables towns to engage in PILOT agreements (payment in lieu of taxes) with redevelopers that can make a difference in getting tough projects off the ground.
A redevelopment designation also allows municipalities to help with project financing through the sale of Redevelopment Area Bonds, which are repaid through a PILOT arrangement. These tools are not available under the properties’ current rehabilitation area status.
These funding mechanisms can help developers afford extra costs that can be associated with difficult sites, Phil said, noting that Tuesday’s vote was only the first step in a long public process.
After some discussion, the council also heeded John Inglesino’s advice to waive its power of condemnation as it pursues this path.
“This permits the town to proceed in a non-threatening way, with the tools of redevelopment still being available,” the lawyer said. “Here, market forces are at work in a way that is likely to produce a willing buyer and a willing seller.”
Responding to concerns raised by Council President Rebecca Feldman, John said the council always can revisit its condemnation options if redevelopment does not occur within a reasonable period.
Abuses of eminent domain–government’s power to take private property for public projects–have sparked outcries in New Jersey and nationwide over the last decade. Mayor Tim Dougherty said he pledged in his first mayoral campaign never to use eminent domain.
The redevelopment course being pursued “gives you more options, and it might make the project going forward more viable,” the Mayor said.
“But I understand the council’s point,” he added. “You don’t want to see an area stay undeveloped and blighted.”
Harry Simon could not be reached for comment.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who cast the only vote against the study, said she is not convinced the site is blighted.
“Why can’t it go through traditional zoning?” she said.