The list of conditions and zoning variances was so long, it took several minutes to read them into the record. An expert witness for a rival hotel called the design “contorted.” The Mayor called the project “risky.”
But after hearing three more hours of testimony, on an application spanning six meetings over the last year, the Morristown planning board on Tuesday expressed unanimous approval for a Cambria hotel proposed for Market and Bank streets, one block from the historic Morristown Green.
It will be Morristown’s third hotel, and its first new one in decades.
“We are so excited. We are going to make Morristown proud,” said Olivia Perl, managing partner of Sunstone Hotels LLC, which will develop the Cambria over four properties acquired by Morristown hedge fund manager Daniel Khoshaba.
Cambria’s approval should be finalized with a vote on April 27, 2017, when all details are expected to be ironed out in a formal resolution.
The hotel is the next step in a dramatic transformation of Market Street that began about a decade ago, when the Epstein’s department store gave way to luxury apartments and condos.
Last month, the law firm Fox Rothschild moved into a new triangular office building at Market and Bank; apartments, shops and a restaurant also are anticipated soon.
Responding to board suggestions, Cambria representatives eliminated plans for a ground-floor swimming pool to create space for two retail storefronts on Bank Street, a nondescript lane where commercial ventures have struggled.
They also eliminated one guest room–bringing the “boutique” hotel to 116 rooms–and trimmed some suites to achieve a receding, terraced effect on the upper level.
‘A RISK, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT’
Mayor Tim Dougherty voiced disappointment that Sunstone did not lose six more rooms. That would have lopped off a seventh story on the Market Street side, he said, making a height variance unnecessary.
Although ultimately supporting the project, Dougherty told the developers that town officials would scrutinize them to ensure they use high-quality materials. He also wants the hotel to prevent guests from monopolizing parking on Market Street, to protect neighboring businesses.
“This is a risk, no doubt about it,” Dougherty said, citing the parking arrangement that most concerned board members.
Cambria will have no on-site parking, even though town regulations call for 214 spaces. Instead, the hotel will provide valet service to shuttle guests’ cars several minutes away, to the Dalton garage on Cattano Avenue.
Sixty-five garage spaces have been leased from the Morristown Parking Authority, with an option for 20 more. A planner previously testified that 65 spaces is more than twice what Cambria actually will need, based on data from a larger Cambria hotel in White Plains, NY.
That data was challenged on Tuesday by planner Peter Steck, testifying for Headquarters Plaza, where the Hyatt Regency Morristown is an anchor tenant that will face competition from Cambria.
Steck also questioned the project’s footprint. The hotel will cover the entire site, extending all the way to the sidewalks.
Canopies will jut over those sidewalks, a six-story limit will be exceeded, trucks will park on Bank Street for hotel deliveries, and Cambria will commandeer two metered spaces on Market Street for guest drop-offs, he said.
“This is a very contorted design,” Steck testified. “There are too many compromises on this small site.”
The hotel also will squeeze the Market Street Mission, which has been helping men overcome substance abuse for more than 125 years.
Chapel windows will require removal, and a kitchen vent, fire escape and trash removal access must be reconfigured to accommodate Cambria, said Mission Executive Director G. David Scott.
Frank Vitolo, attorney for the project, told the board that the hotel will resolve these concerns.
‘BETTER THAN WHEN WE STARTED’
At the Mayor’s request, Vitolo also pledged to explore decorating a brick wall with a mural by Morris Arts. The attorney is a trustee of that nonprofit, and also serves as chairman of the Morristown Partnership, a downtown business organization.
Vitolo praised the planning board for its diligence.
“This is a better project than when we started,” he said. “This is going to provide Morristown with a first-class hotel, with an exciting array of amenities, and the best location in Morristown.”
Board chairman Joe Stanley predicted Cambria will be beautiful, and a plus for the town. As for parking, he said sometimes you must get creative. “It’s not practical to expect everyone to build parking decks,” Stanley said.
The board heard from plenty of experts–and the absence of public objections spoke volumes too, according to town Planner Phil Abramson.
“It was a well-vetted process,” he said. “Board members are feeling more optimism than fear.”