By Margret Brady and Kevin Coughlin
Opponents warned of traffic and parking congestion. But a developer got the green light this week to build 59 apartments in a DeHart Street space approved for 36 condos a decade ago.
The Morristown council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to amend a 2005 redevelopment plan for the former Epstein’s department store.
Wording of the amendment leaves room for the administration to negotiate with developer Carl Goldberg to include some sort of public art space on the project’s ground level, according to town attorneys.
“It’s great to even be having a conversation about new potential arts space in Morristown,” said Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts. He asked to be included in any future discussions of the idea, which Council President Rebecca Feldman proposed last month.
Feldman has suggested a studio or gallery will enhance the vibrancy of Morristown’s downtown, which has a burgeoning arts scene. Mayor Tim Dougherty has expressed interest — as long as the town does not have to hand a huge tax break to Goldberg.
For his part, Goldberg has agreed to include three affordable units in the project. The two “no” votes, from council members Raline Smith-Reid and Alison Deeb, stemmed partly from their desire to see more affordable units.
Smith-Reid noted that 1,000 people applied for 26 affordable units at the new Modera 44 apartment complex.
Goldberg told the council last month that if any more affordable units were mandated, he would walk away from the DeHart Street project–the third and final piece of the Epstein’s redevelopment that already includes the 40 Park luxury condos and the Metropolitan apartments.
Smith-Reid contended that plenty of other developers would be happy to step in. She also disputed projections that parking will be sufficient in the adjacent DeHart Street garage.
Deeb said traffic studies for the vicinity are more than a decade old.
Christine Conti-Collins, a resident of the 40 Park condos, said exiting from the parking garage onto DeHart Street already is “a nightmare,” with trucks in no-parking spots and lots of traffic.
Conti-Collins also raised parking concerns. She and her husband Dan pay to park two cars in the garage, in addition to two spaces that come with their condo. One Friday night at 9 o’clock, she said, Dan was infuriated when he came home from work to find no spaces available.
“You must guarantee [parking for] people who pay for parking spaces, when they come home from work,” Conti-Collins said.
Goldberg’s plans call for a silvery-black five-story structure, inspired by late 19th-century steel loft buildings in New York’s Soho section. Architect Dean Marchetto envisions large geometric windows above columns that create a partially covered sidewalk, or arcade.
IN OTHER BUSINESS…
The council authorized settlement of tax appeals filed by LWH Morristown LLC, owners since 2009 of vacant land at Ann and Court streets, behind the Morris County Courthouse.
Back in 2008, Pulte Homes had plans to build 66 townhouses there, after six 19th- century structures were demolished. Then the recession hit. Unable to develop the steeply sloped property, LWH Morristown LLC sought relief from what it viewed as steep local taxes.
Appeals for 2010-2011 were withdrawn. The land was assessed at $4 million; the settlement calls for a $3.4 million assessment for 2012, $3 million for 2013, and $2.5 million for 2015.
The settlement passed by a 5-0 vote. Councilwoman Alison Deeb abstained. Councilman Michael Elms, who participated in a closed session discussion, recused himself from the vote, explaining later that he wished to avoid the appearance of conflict because he is a realtor seeking buyers for the tract.
WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
An appointment to a water commission also made a few ripples on Tuesday.
By a 4-3 vote, Mary Dougherty was reappointed to the Southeast Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority.
After much back and forth about parliamentary procedure, Councilman Stefan Armington nominated Max Huber, who lives in his Third Ward and owns a drinking water testing service. Council President Rebecca Feldman and Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid supported that nomination,
But Michelle Dupree Harris, Toshiba Foster, Michael Elms and Alison Deeb — the council’s only Republican — backed Mary Dougherty, who chairs the town’s Democratic committee and is married to Mayor Tim Dougherty.
Elms, who is a business partner of Mary Dougherty, said she deserved re-appointment.
“Mary has served faithfully on the the water authority for 14 years, and been an asset to that organization,” the councilman said. “She was willing and truly wanted to serve again. The council decided why kick someone off the board who’s done a great job?”