Ready for the Morristown version of New York’s famous Flatiron Building?
A developer is keen to erect a triangular office building for a law firm on a roughly half-acre wedge between Market and Bank Streets, town officials say.
Unlike the iconic 1902 structure, which looms 22 stories above Manhattan with 180,000 square feet of space, this one would be more modest: Five stories above Market Street, with about 45,000 square feet of offices.
Officials say it would bring some welcome improvements to the downtown’s gateway — a topographically challenging parcel that the town considers blighted — along with 150 office workers to dine and shop locally.
But before project plans are submitted, the town council must amend the 2005 Epstein’s redevelopment plan to allow this use. The council may introduce an ordinance at a special meeting on Thursday, April 2, 2015, at 7 pm.
“We’ve created strategies to make a more livable gateway to Morristown that people can be proud of,” said the town’s planning consultant, Phil Abramson.
These strategies, outlined in an 80-page report, would impose conditions on any developer of this elbow-shaped lot. They include creation of a sidewalk around the entire property, replacement of a spooky alley between Bank and Market with a friendlier passageway, and a prettier streetscape for pedestrians.
In exchange, Abramson explained, the developer would be permitted to place offices on the ground level of Market Street, a use not authorized under the original redevelopment plan.
That decade-old plan led to conversion of the Epstein’s department store into luxury condos, apartments and retail shops. Townhomes also were built in an Epstein’s parking lot on Maple Avenue, and more apartments are coming on DeHart Street, in front of the Morristown Parking Authority deck that enabled all the redevelopment.
PARKING, TRAFFIC AND TRASH
The DeHart deck, and another MPA garage at Ann and Bank streets, are essential to the Market/Bank buildout. Employees in the proposed triangular offices would park in these facilities.
Traffic studies may be needed to determine how to simplify their rush-hour journeys to and from the garages, Abramson acknowledged. Any developer of the property could be required to contribute toward traffic improvements, he added.
Mayor Tim Dougherty is optimistic. Most recent development in town has been residential, he said, but this piece should add a healthy mix.
“This law firm coming to the downtown will support businesses during the day. And it will have an effect on real estate. People like to live where they work,” said the Mayor.
Because details are pending, officials have not disclosed the name of the law firm or developer.
Council President Rebecca Feldman said much has been learned since this area first was designated for redevelopment, when she served on the planning board under former Mayor Jay DeLaney.
While the revised redevelopment plan presents “a great opportunity to improve car, bike and pedestrian access around and through these sites,” Feldman said more discussion of permitted uses and conditions is needed for Market/ Bank. She has questions about deliveries and garbage trucks being shoehorned into these tight spaces, and about impacts from the nearby bar scene.
“I hope the Administration can come prepared with suggestions to resolve these open issues so that we can move forward quickly and realize the great potential this area holds,” the council president said.
PARCELING OUT THE REDEVELOPMENT
The wedge is one of three contiguous parcels between Market and Bank streets — all earmarked for redevelopment — owned by Harry Simon, whose Simon Gallery sits in the middle parcel.
Simon declined to comment for this story.
Abramson’s report only pertains to the wedge, “Parcel A.” That tract includes the former Accents on Knitting shop, closed since December, a defunct florist shop and another shop vacant since about 1986, Abramson said.
Parcel B includes the gallery, a former Crossfit gym and the former London World salon. (Both moved to new locations.) Parcel C has a long-vacant building that sustained a partial roof collapse under heavy snow last year.
As envisioned a decade ago, all three parcels were to be redeveloped as a single structure, either with 66 apartments or six-stories (measured from Bank Street, which is lower than Market) with 130,000 square feet of offices and 300 employees, Abramson said.
The town has taken steps that will allow it to offer incentives, such as payments in lieu of taxes and the sale of Redevelopment Area Bonds, to help developers build on a site that otherwise might pose too many expensive obstacles.
It was a much simpler neighborhood a century ago, according to Abramson’s report.
“Historically, the district around Bank Street was part of Morristown’s thriving livery trade. In the early 20th century the district was home to coach builders and livery stables,” he wrote.
“At a fork in the road that may be as old as Morristown itself, new redevelopment will set the stage for new jobs, downtown living and amenities that will keep Morristown a competitive location into the next century,” the report contends.