By Kevin Coughlin
The next phase of Morristown’s Speedwell Avenue redevelopment, a massive project first proposed in 2002, is on the runway, ready for takeoff.
It’s a six-story, 185-unit apartment complex, to go on the town’s former public works site, across Prospect Street from the 268-unit Modera 44 building that opened last December.
Twenty-eight of the new units — 15 percent of the total–would be designated as affordable, if the town council approves this “Phase Two” Speedwell package on June 11, 2015. A review by the planning board is scheduled for Thursday, May 28.
The proposal also calls for a landscaped “linear park,” with three public spaces and artwork funded by the developer, to connect Speedwell Avenue and Prospect Street.
Morristown’s “One Percent for Art” program was announced earlier this year for a triangular law office planned for Bank and Market streets. One percent of that project’s capital costs, up to $100,000, will go to Morris Arts to create art there.
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Other proposed features of Speedwell Phase Two include a shared “laneway” for cars and pedestrians, linking Early and Prospect streets, and 60 public parking spaces.
Everything would span about 4.3 acres, now comprising property owned by the town, the Morristown Parking Authority, and a handful of private owners.
“If the plan ultimately is implemented, it will create dramatic views and moments in the neighborhood, taking advantage of [topography] challenges in the neighborhood,” said Phil Abramson, the town’s planning consultant, referring to the valley created by the Mill Creek.
At about 43 apartments per acre, Phase Two will have about half the development density of Phase One, he said.
“We were very sensitive to maintaining a neighborhood character on Early Street,” Abramson said. “There will be terraces and gardens and stoops. It will look and feel more like brownstones than an apartment building. And you get 60 spaces of public parking to support existing and potential businesses along Speedwell Avenue. You will have a new parking garage in that neighborhood.”
He described the park as a place for street fairs, sidewalk sales and passive recreation.
“Here we have a park that’s really strategically located to support the new development. We can create a neighborhood in the community by giving those apartments some space to breathe, and giving residents in the neighborhood a space for outdoor activities,” Abramson said.
If approvals are granted, construction of Phase Two should take about 18 months, the planner estimated.
By the time that work is complete, he said, traffic congestion should be eased somewhat by the reconfiguration of Speedwell Avenue intersections at Early and Spring streets — including a new northbound lane along Speedwell from Spring to Flagler Street.
Plans also call for replacement and re-timing of traffic signals, and a beacon would be placed at a pedestrian crossing at Speedwell and Flagler.
“We’re essentially implementing a traffic plan the DOT came up with in 2005-2006,” Abramson said, referring to the state Department of Transportation. “We’re using economic development to reduce traffic and spur investment along the avenue… here, we found a way to balance the two.”
Conceived as a four-part process, the Speedwell redevelopment initially was expected to yield up to 800 residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail space to transform areas the town deems “blighted.”
Those targets have been revised at least three times since 2007 to reflect changing economics and market trends. Condos are out; apartments are in. The town now seeks a maximum of 572 units, and only 36,100 square feet of retail for the entire redevelopment, according to planning documents.
Mill Creek Residential, which constructed the Modera 44 apartments (including 26 units designated as affordable) as Phase One, seeks to erect Phase Two. This would include 263 parking spaces, in a ground-level garage. The building height would range from four- to six stories, on sloping terrain.
The Morristown Ambulance Squad must vacate its headquarters on the site and find a new home.
Phase Four is a CVS pharmacy, scheduled to open within a few weeks on the site of a former car dealership at Speedwell and Spring. A pedestrian plaza is part of that development.
Phase Three now is envisioned as approximately 24 residential units and about 5,000 square feet of retail, at corner of Clinton Place and Speedwell Avenue. It contains no specific proposals for the remainder of Speedwell Avenue, Abramson said.