By Kevin Coughlin
The transformation of Market and Bank streets came another step closer to reality on Thursday, when the Morristown council approved an agreement that includes off-site affordable housing and $100,000 for an art project to complement a proposed mix of apartments, storefronts and a restaurant.
If the planning board concurs and tax concessions can be nailed down, 55 one- and two-bedroom units, 22,000-square-feet of storefronts and the restaurant could be completed by October 2018, according to Frank Vitolo, attorney for Vertical Realty Capital LLC of Millburn. Vertical and Stolar Capital of Hoboken are partners in the venture.
The council voted 6-0 for the deal. Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris was absent.
Among other things, Vertical / Stolar agreed to:
- Pay Morris Habitat for Humanity $800,000 to create 10 affordable units in a stalled project on Martin Luther King Avenue.
- Abide by a midnight curfew for alcohol sales at the future restaurant
- Set aside one percent of the project cost, up to $100,000, for an unspecified art project on the site.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb questioned the arts provision, suggesting a contribution for environmental programs instead.
But Mayor Tim Dougherty noted that Vertical Realty already has paid $300,000 for infrastructure improvements serving the entire redevelopment of the former Epstein’s department store and its parking lots.
That payment was part of a complex arrangement to secure garage parking spaces for the apartment units from the Morristown Parking Authority, Vitolo explained.
Years ago the authority paid for infrastructure work that included storm water and sewer improvements.
The prior owner of the two parcels at 35-41 Market St., Harry Simon, was obligated to repay some of those costs, Vitolo said.
Vertical /Stolar agreed to assume that debt and repay the authority, in exchange for 70 spaces in the garage at Ann and Bank streets, the lawyer said.
The infrastructure improvements facilitated construction of the 40 Park luxury condos and the DeHart Street garage, and made possible the project on Market and Bank streets, Vitolo said.
Vertical / Stolar also is revising a request to make payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, an arrangement known by the acronym PILOT.
A PILOT “will be required to construct the project,” Vitolo said.
Several projects in Morristown have been granted PILOT status, which saves money for developers by minimizing county property tax payments and eliminating school taxes.
Proponents say the savings enable builders to tackle projects that otherwise would be too challenging. And new apartments generally don’t attract tenants with children, studies have indicated.
Critics counter that society benefits from public education and everyone should help support it. Assemblymen Anthony M. Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll (both R-25th Dist.) have sponsored a bill that would mandate sharing a portion of these payments with counties and schools.
Vertical / Stolar also must contend with one holdover tenant, a pilates studio, before construction can proceed, Vitolo said.
Mayor Dougherty said the redevelopment is good news for the downtown.
“It’s a beneficial project. They’re investing a lot of money in Morristown. They’ve bought dilapidated buildings that have been vacant for a long time, and spent a lot of money improving the infrastructure, to bring a quality development downtown,” Dougherty said.
“Our clients are very excited to continue moving forward with this project, which you can see from the renderings will be an iconic Morristown building,” said Vitolo.
“We appreciate the public’s input, guidance from the administration and the hard work of the town council to make this project possible. Completion of this final piece of the original Epstein’s rehabilitation will help make Market and Bank Streets a prime destination for living, eating and shopping,” the attorney said.
A triangular law office already is under construction on Market Street, and a Cambria hotel is proposed.