Long hearing for proposed Cambria hotel ends with hot words in Morristown

Planner Michael Tobia, left, and attorney Frank Vitolo make case for new Cambria hotel in Morristown, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Planner Michael Tobia, left, and attorney Frank Vitolo make case for new Cambria hotel in Morristown, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
6
744
Planner Michael Tobia, left, and attorney Frank Vitolo make case for new Cambria hotel in Morristown, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Planner Michael Tobia, left, and attorney Frank Vitolo make case for new Cambria hotel in Morristown, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

By Kevin Coughlin

The attorney for a proposed Cambria hotel finally had enough on Thursday.

“For the opposing counsel to pull this rabbit out of his hat is pretty outrageous!” Frank Vitolo fumed at the end of an otherwise dry three-hour Morristown planning board hearing–his client’s fourth such hearing over the last year.

Mayor Tim Dougherty raise question about Cambria project, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Tim Dougherty raise question about Cambria project, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Vitolo got angry when it appeared the Cambria team would have to pay for yet another session because an expert witness for the Hyatt Regency Morristown–an objector to Cambria’s 117-room “boutique” hotel proposed for Market and Bank streets–failed to show up.

Harvey Gilbert, lawyer for the Hyatt, cited extenuating circumstances for his no-show planning expert.

As it turned out, the board insisted on continuing the proceedings to March 23, 2017, partly to allay Mayor Tim Dougherty’s concerns about Cambria’s loading bay.

“I think it’s going to create a nightmare” of backed-up traffic on Bank Street, Dougherty said of Cambria’s plans for only one delivery bay, instead of the four that town zoning suggests for an operation of this size.

The developers seek permission to exceed six stories (the Bank Street side would rise seven stories), to exceed 80 percent lot coverage (the proposed 86,000-square-foot building would cover the entire lot), to build closer to the curb than allowed, and to reduce parking requirements.

Morristown requires 214 parking spaces. Cambria wants to provide only 65, at the Dalton garage on Cattano Avenue. That’s roughly twice the number of spaces the hotel will need, according to its experts, citing data from a Cambria property in White Plains, NY.

Proposed seven-story Cambria hotel, as viewed from Bank Street.
Proposed seven-story Cambria hotel, as viewed from Bank Street.

VALETS, RIVALS, AND DATA

A valet service would shuttle guests’ cars to and from the garage, a round-trip of about 10 minutes, testified Michael Tobia, Cambria’s planning consultant.

“I believe this is the future of Morristown: Creative, shared parking plans,” said Tobia.  With their cars parked off-site, guests will be more likely to explore Morristown on foot, becoming “walking wallets”  for the local economy, he said.

Planning board Chairman Joe Stanley, left, and Vice Chair Tim Murphy peruse plans at Cambria hotel hearing, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Planning board Chairman Joe Stanley, left, and Vice Chair Tim Murphy peruse plans at Cambria hotel hearing, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Noting that Cambria seeks no special tax breaks, Vitolo also painted the valet arrangement as a plus, saying it would generate less traffic congestion than on-site parking.

Hyatt witnesses disagreed. Seth Schochet, vice president of Fifth Roc Jersey Associates, which owns the Headquarters Plaza complex that includes the Hyatt, said Cambria’s valet service could worsen traffic around the historic Morristown Green.

Yet astonishingly–given its objector status–the Hyatt does not consider Cambria a rival. That’s what Schochet said under cross-examination by Vitolo, who represents applicant Sunstone Hotels LLC.

“I honestly don’t think this will be competition,” said Schochet, testifying that the 16-story, 250-room Hyatt often is booked solid on weekdays, offers vastly more space for conferences and meetings than the proposed Cambria, and has a 3,000-space garage.

Seth Schochet, left, testifies that the Hyatt Regency Morristown does not view a proposed Cambria hotel as a rival, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Seth Schochet, left, testifies that the Hyatt Regency Morristown does not view a proposed Cambria hotel as a rival, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

So why is the Hyatt an objector?

“We believe proper planning is essential to any project,” Schochet told MorristownGreen.com.

Hyatt traffic consultant Gordon Meth spent a good chunk of the evening poking Cambria’s plans.

Cambria will need 126 parking spaces, and its valet service will cause backups at two traffic lights and strain secondary roads, he said.

Meth further contended the valet service will violate a town ordinance that requires off-site parking to be within 1,000 feet. The Dalton Garage is 1,750 feet from the Cambria site, he said.

Under questioning by board members and Vitolo, the consultant said his conclusions were based on his critique of Cambria’s own traffic impact study, and on an industry guidebook comparing parking at 20 suburban hotels across North America.

Traffic expert Gordon Meth, left, and attorney Harvey Gilbert present the Hyatt's objections to the Morristown planning board, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Traffic expert Gordon Meth, left, and attorney Harvey Gilbert present the Hyatt’s objections to the Morristown planning board, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

On average, those hotels are about three times larger than the proposed Cambria, he acknowledged.

 

Meth did not study traffic or parking at the Hyatt, or at the nearby Best Western and Westin Governor Morris hotels. He was unsure if they were comparable to the Cambria, he said.

Town resident John Brady asked Meth if his traffic studies accounted for changing behavior–such as hotel guests leaving their cars at home and paying services such as Uber or Lyft to drop them off.

“I live my life based on what I see in data, and in patterns,” Meth replied. “I have yet to see data that says trends have changed dramatically.”

MORE ABOUT THE CAMBRIA HOTEL PROJECT

Morristown resident John Brady questions Hyatt traffic consultant Gordon Meth, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown resident John Brady questions Hyatt traffic consultant Gordon Meth, March 16, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 MorristownGreen.com

If you’ve read this far… you clearly value your local news. Now we need your help to keep producing the local coverage you depend on! More people are reading Morristown Green than ever. But costs keep rising. Reporting the news takes time, money and hard work. We do it because we, like you, believe an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy community.

So please, CONTRIBUTE to MG or become a monthly SUBSCRIBER. ADVERTISE on Morristown Green. LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SIGN UP for our newsletter.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The retail space in Headquarters Plaza is wasted because the rents are too high for the business traffic. If you look around the business streets in town, vacant spaces tend to sit in the high-rent areas and get filled up in the lower-rent areas. Putting in more retail space is fine, but the rents have to be structured to allow businesses to survive.

  2. Very excited for this project. Hotels make Morristown a destination, allowing visitors to come to town for shows, events, etc. I don’t believe the concerns over parking or traffic have much validity. In fact, limiting the parking is essential to creating an urban environment. The “walking wallets” will be Morristown’s key to success as we grow in the coming years.
    I do however, have questions on whether or not the plan is contributing to the urbanity of Morristown enough for how large it will be. Buildings in the downtown need to be high-performance, meaning they serve many for a little. The ground level needs to meet the street in a way for pedestrians to interact with it. Benches, tables, public art, places to meet, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
    Let’s embrace change and develop responsibly, big doesn’t mean bad.

  3. JT- agreed. Headquarters needs a major overhaul. All of that wasted empty retail space

    This project is great for town. The walking wallet is exactly what this project will do. And it’s tearing down blighted buildings- how do that make Morristown lose its charm? That’s a ridiculous statement

  4. Oh good, another giant building to help change the face of Morristown into a overly dense, non-green, residential unfriendly, traffic clogged city that is fast losing its charm…Will the administration welcome yet another giant building that has one delivery bay instead of 4 that zoning says it needs; a giant building that exceeds the six story limit; that exceeds 80% allowed coverage and instead covers the entire lot; that requires 214 parking spaces, but does not have any spaces on site and wants to rent 65 from a nearby parking garage. What is happening to our town and who is encouraging such over development? ?

  5. Seth Schochet, vice president of Fifth Roc Jersey Associates should focus his time and energy on cleaning up the eyesore that is the Headquarters Plaza complex. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing until you get your own house in order.

LEAVE A REPLY