Can art space, storage center transform Morris Street? Public workshop, July 11

Aerial view of proposed storage facility site (center). Photo courtesy of Topology.
Aerial view of proposed storage facility site (center). Photo courtesy of Topology.
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Aerial view of proposed storage facility site (center). Photo courtesy of Topology.
Aerial view of proposed storage facility site (center). Photo courtesy of Topology.

By Kevin Coughlin

It’s one stretch of Morristown that people usually are anxious to leave. Hard by Route 287, and paralleled by NJ Transit tracks, the eastern portion of Morris Street is where you gas up your car, or rent one, or board a train, to go somewhere else.

But town planners are hoping a proposed five-story, 100,000-square-foot self-storage center will continue a neighborhood transformation started by construction of several dozen apartments from Morris to Ford Avenue.

Wait a minute. A storage center?

Not too sexy.  To spice things up, the developer is offering a 2,600-square-foot art facility. The nonprofit Morris Arts would rent space to artists and encourage patio performances and exhibitions to boost sidewalk traffic, said Tom Werder, executive director of the arts agency.

“This will bring some life down there,” Werder said.

Residents will get a chance to weigh in at a public workshop on Monday, July 11, 2016, in the seniors center at town hall.  The presentation is scheduled to run from 6 pm to 8 pm.

“I’m curious about how it comes out, and about the public’s perception,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said.

A  five-story, 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility and artists studio is proposed for this location on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A five-story, 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility and artists studio is proposed for this location on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The combined storage/arts project is proposed for the former site of Milelli’s Auto Service and Towing, at 175 Morris St., and extends onto property in the rear that abuts the railroad tracks.  Assorted vehicles are stored there now.

Hampshire Properties is the developer, said town Planner Phil Abramson. An entity called Morris Street 2015 LLC paid $5 million last year for a pair of small parcels, records show.  The Extra Space brand would run the storage center, Abramson said.

A heating oil distributor used to operate there, he said. Environmental issues would have made residential development tricky; a storage center seems like a good fit, he said.

“It’s an innocuous use. But we don’t want it to be a dead use,” Abramson said.

That’s where the art space comes in. The planner said it was inspired in part by Mana Contemporary, a Jersey City warehouse converted into a popular arts destination. A few storage centers across the country also have begun experimenting with arts concepts, he said.

Examples of art spaces, slideshow images courtesy of Topology

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The project is in line with the Mayor’s support for the arts, Abramson added. A triangular law office going up on Market Street–another Hampshire development–agreed last year to earmark one percent of its construction cost for creation of an art project on-site.

Accepting an award from Morris Arts in the spring, Dougherty pledged to keep pressing developers to fund the arts.

This lot is the proposed home of a large self-store facility, off of Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
This lot is the proposed home of a large self-store facility, off of Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Abramson said the proposed arts building would have skylights, and garage-style doors to enable the public to see the art being created inside.  The storage center would have cement and metal paneling and eventually, “green walls” of vines, he said.  The planner envisioned a mural facing the tracks, to greet rail passengers to Morristown.

The plans would require some zoning revisions. The Morris Street redevelopment plan does not currently include storage facilities as permitted uses, Abramson said. And the business zone only allows three-story structures. The storage center aims to go five stories.

That concerns some nearby residents.

Apartment dwellers on the other side of the railroad tracks “will face a monolithic structure as tall as the building they’re in,” said Ken Hoffman, a member of the Franklin Corners neighborhood association.

A giant storage center would be a “slap in the face” to people moving into nearly 70 apartments under construction next door, he said.

“I just don’t think it’s the right thing for that place,” said Hoffman, who intends to bring his questions to Monday’s workshop.

These new apartments, bordering NJ Transit line, would be neighbors of the proposed storage facility on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
These new apartments, bordering NJ Transit line, would be neighbors of the proposed storage facility on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Aerial view of apartments being constructed at former Bell Telephone building on Ford Avenue; five-story storage building is proposed for area in rear of photo. Image courtesy of Topology.
Aerial view of apartments being constructed at former Bell Telephone building on Ford Avenue; five-story storage building is proposed for area in rear of photo. Image courtesy of Topology.
Proposed site of Morris Street storage facility is in center of this aerial shot. Photo courtesy of Topology.
Proposed site of Morris Street storage facility is in center of this aerial shot. Photo courtesy of Topology.

 

 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Although I can’t be at the meeting tonight to see the plans, I struggle with how a five story structure fits this area. Also not sure why these properties were given they extra privileges a ‘redevelopment zone’ gets….more flexibility to not comply with our town Master Plan. In general I don’t have an issue with the use on the property but I do have an issue with the height and mass. Not sure how our town officials couldn’t provide Hamshire with some better guidance on this.

    I also liked the ‘lipstick on a pig’ comment…….it fits this one

  2. Kevin,
    No time to read the article in its entirety, as well as the comments, but you know I’m a lover of the arts. Then again, I’m all for affordable housing (not sure actual affordable housing exists anywhere in the Garden State!).
    Just a reminder that Jack Vaughn, the son of the late Jack Vaughn, who was the second director of the Peace Corps, will make a guest appearance at 70 South Gallery on Friday evening, July 15, at about 6 p.m. to help launch “Spirit,” the exhibition of photos taken by Peace Corps volunteers around the planet. That evening’s event is by invitation only, but since you’re a media guru and a buddy of mine, I think you’d gain entrance (!). By the way, Jack is a second cousin of my husband’s. Hope to see you there.
    Penny, aka Glinda Garbahj

  3. 100,000 square feet of total space with 2,600 going to artists’ studios. So a little more than 2.5 percent for art.

    Difficult to even refer to it as “arts-related.”

    An actual “art center” would not hurt the city in the least, if done properly … if the property were environmentally sound … and if someone cared enough about the arts in Morristown to come up with the funding.

    As it stands now there is barely any art presence in town at all. Just a whiff … a faint after-thought that speaks volumes about the town’s priorities.

    Unless of course you like looking at statues of George Washington from the 1700s.

  4. “It’s an innocuous use,” said town planner, Abramson. Was he joking?…does he understand that innocuous means “not harmful or offensive”?

    The proposal for a five story 100, 00 sq. foot commercial storage center is totally out of place in Morristown…and yet, it appears in this article that the proposal is apparently supported by Mayor Dougherty who I used to think was so in touch with and responsive to residents concerns….According to the article, “The project is in line with the Mayor’s support for the arts.'”

    Curiously, few details about the storage units have been shared with with residents. Often developers meet with residents to get their feedback before more money is spent on meetings, etc. Not this time….all is mum, except for exclaiming how wonderful an attached arts center would be….the arts center is so lipstick on a pig. Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building warned us that so-called public forums can be a mere attempt to give lip service for plans already complete and then often promise amenities, sometimes called bribes, in order to sweeten the pot.
    …..Storage units belong on major highways, not downtown Morristown…All the talk about the arts center is nice, but it masks the true intrusiveness of the gigantic project…

  5. As an FYI, although only two stories tall but still coming in at 77,000 sq. feet, another self storage center is under consideration in Morris Township just about a one mile straight shot down Columbia Turnpike adjacent to Honeywell lot. An application was taken up by the Township Board of Adjustment at their April meeting and I assume is under consideration. Hard to believe their is such a high demand for storage facilities? Who knows if the two projects are even aware the other exists? Included below is content from the Board of Adjustment meeting and a link to same.

    Block 9002, Lot 13, 99 Columbia Road, OL-40 zone. Section C & D.
    Applicant proposes construction of a two story high self-storage facility of approximately
    77,000 square feet of floor area. A management office and two bedroom manager’s
    apartment unit are included within the building floor area. In addition, an emergency
    generator is also proposed to the easterly side lot line.

    https://www.morristwp.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/04252016-717

  6. I’d hate to see this storage facility plan proceed simply because of potential environmental concerns about the former oil company’s occupation of part of this site. I hope that community opposition to this plan would encourage further investigation of these concerns and either give a green light to a residential use or specify what kind of remediation would be needed to achieve that goal. May I add my voice to the many others who feel that this new proposal is totally inappropriate for the site and the town. I’d go further and say that this plan is an insult to the people of this town.

  7. Well I have to agree with Marge I’m sure a better use can be found. But it’s all about helping your friends and screwing everybody else.

  8. If the Town wants to know what should be on that site, they should read the redevelopment plan they had drafted at tax payers expense not that long ago. That approved more than double the density of a proposal that had neighborhood support in 2005 but had been denied by the Board of Adjustment because they claimed it was to dense.

    A new development is now replacing the eyesore Ford Ave. warehouse with housing and adds a new residential development to its rear. Those new residents, at the other end are now expected to abut the same type of use, the neighbors and developer worked so hard to eliminate. The new building involves demolishing some actual affordable housing and is rumored to be 75feet high. Does anyone involved in this have any common sense?

    There are two quite large Apartment buildings on Hill Street that combined are not as large as this proposal. The tenants in the rear apartments of 34 and 44 Hill Street will now face the back all of this massive building.

    Any developer who cares about Morristown, would come to his potential neighbors for input first, instead of spending his valuable time and money convincing Town officials to ignore their residents and tax payers wishes and push an after the fact proposal that indicates no common sense from a zoning or planning standpoint.

    Other residents in Morristown must understand that if this is approved, any other developer has a good legal argument that our community accepts projects that violate our codes and standards to receive approval to build something similar in your back yard.

    Thank you Kevin for letting us know what to expect on Monday night, at a meeting held with short notice and when many are away,

    The neighborhood made many attempts to have a mural project in this area but had received little to no support. Now you offer to build us a wall for a mural that only transit riders traveling through our Town will see. Consider the views of the thousands of pedestrians and cars in that area each day greeted by ugly concrete. surfaces on both sides of the street, especially at or around the underpass.

  9. Interesting…

    Speaking of development… What happened to the four-story design for South Park Place/ South St that is on RKF.com. The building looks like its staying 3 floors.

    Also- anyone know what is going in the Parm Centro, David Todds or Mr Chungs spaces?

  10. Not exactly certain how a 5 story storage center within yards of a train station with midtown direct access to NYC every 30 minutes fits our “Transit Village” designation. Storage facilities like this are meant for rt. 10 or places like Parsippany.

    If we’re creating a walkable, urban downtown – storage units are not needed. People who live in these smaller apartments have made the conscious decision to downsize or live minimally.

    And the Morris Arts aspect seems like lipstick on a pig.

    Awful proposal.

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