By Kevin Coughlin
One of the largest crowds seen at a Morristown zoning workshop came out Monday to learn about a proposed storage center — and left planners with plenty of feedback to file away.
Some audience members said the presentation at the packed seniors center raised more questions than it answered about the five story, 100,000-plus-square-foot storage facility proposed for Morris Street.
Hampshire Properties paid $5 million, according to public records, for property that formerly housed Milelli’s Auto Service and Towing and an oil distribution operation. Town planners say potential environmental issues would make it a tricky spot for residential development. More than 70 apartments are going up next door.
One sweetener being offered is a 2,600-square-foot art studio, which would be run by the nonprofit Morris Arts.
But members of the Franklin Corners neighborhood association, across the NJ Transit railroad tracks and up the hill from the site, are concerned that apartments on Hill Street will be faced with an unpleasant view of the storage structure.
And some contend that a storage center runs contrary to years of town plans that have aimed to transform the stretch of Morris Street between the train trestle and Route 287 from a gritty assortment of gas stations and used car lots into a residential gateway to Morristown.
An artist’s rendering depicting a glowing facade “looked to me as though a huge box had landed from outer space,” said Margret Brady, a former councilwoman.
After Route 287 cut a swath through the neighborhood in 1968, many residents were galvanized to push to make Morris Street “a picturesque historic link from Washington’s Headquarters to the
Schuyler-Hamilton house to the train station, and ending at our historic Morristown Green,” Brady said.
Other residents expressed frustration with the format of the workshop, which was not structured as a Q & A session, and with the cramped quarters that made it difficult for many to view a slide presentation.
Town Planner Phil Abramson thanked attendees for their “time, participation, and candor” in an email sent afterwards.
“We have begun to catalog and synthesize your feedback,” said Abramson, who described the attendance as possibly the largest during his tenure in Morristown. Next steps are to be determined. “Please stay tuned,” he said.
The storage center probably would require zoning revisions. The Morris Street redevelopment plan does not currently include storage facilities as permitted uses, according to Abramson. And the business zone only allows three-story structures.
Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts, called the evening “lively and informative.
Werder said it’s too soon to say what tweaks, if any, might be made to the studio portion of the proposal, “unless we can make it larger.”