Three projects that will dramatically alter Morristown’s downtown got unanimous approvals from the planning board on Thursday.
A 228-seat restaurant is coming to DeHart Street, a landscaped park will sprout across from the historic Morristown Green at Headquarters Plaza, and a 116-room “boutique” hotel is destined for Market Street.
The restaurant, which will share a liquor license with the Tashmoo Restaurant & Bar next door, received a variance to waive a town requirement to provide 205 parking spaces on-site.
Ample spaces are available at Morristown Parking Authority facilities within 1,000 feet of the site, a consultant for applicant David Walsh told the board.
Although parking often is tight at the DeHart Street garage directly across from the proposed restaurant, up to 400 spaces are available at the Ann / Bank Street garage, according to parking authority counts from eight evenings over two weeks in March and April.
“I think it’s terrific,” Walsh’s attorney, Brian Fahey, said of the variance. “It’s exactly what we hoped we would get. It’s appropriate.”
“This underscores the importance of public parking,” said town Planner Phil Abramson.
Abramson said the board heard persuasive testimony that many restaurant patrons probably would be in town anyway, for shows at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, and so they actually might not be increasing the demand for parking. Some patrons also may use taxi services like Uber and Lyft, or mass transit, he said.
Restaurant construction cannot start until Walsh obtains approvals to move a three-story house off the 10 DeHart St. site. That application will be filed soon, Fahey said.
Morristown realtor Kathryn “Kit” Godby wants to relocate the 122-year-old house–which already has been moved once–to a vacant lot on Catherine Lane, for use as a three-family residence, Fahey said.
‘A FIRST-CLASS PROJECT’
The board also approved a site plan for improvements to transform Headquarters Plaza’s Pioneer Park from a barren, windswept slab of concrete into a tree-shaded, family friendly concourse with swing sets, trellises and an artificial turf lawn suitable for small concerts and movies.
“We’re going to get an outstanding space that the public will like. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Council President Stefan Armington, who also serves on the planning board.
Ken Smith Workshop, a high-profile landscape architectural firm, solicited public suggestions while designing the project for the Olnick Organization and Fisher Development, joint owners of Headquarters Plaza.
Upgrades to Pioneer Park are part of a 2014 deal in which the town sold its land rights beneath HQ Plaza for $1.6 million.
The owners had agreed to spend between $500,000 and $1.15 million to make the park more inviting. On Thursday, they indicated their investment now will be more like $4 million.
“They are doing a lot more than anticipated. They decided to make it a first-class project,” said Jay DeLaney Jr., lawyer for the owners.
One major expense, according to town Zoning Officer James Campbell, will be ripping up the entire plaza to repair a membrane that is leaking into the parking garage below.
Additionally, Vision Real Estate Partners, new owners of the adjacent 1776 office building, have expressed interest in extending the park renovations to the front of their building.
Details on signage remain to be ironed out. The HQ owners want a “Headquarters Plaza” sign for the park; the town prefers to have Morristown highlighted.
Also to be resolved: Who will control event scheduling for the space. Because the park received state Green Acres funding in 1981, public access cannot be denied, Abramson said.
While there is an outside chance that Pioneer Park can be revamped this year, next spring is more likely, Abramson said.
Although the Cambria hotel got its green light earlier this month, some conditions were tacked on and they were approved on Thursday.
These included the developers’ agreeing to use high-quality materials–town construction officials will be the arbiters–and to ensure emergency- and trash removal access for their neighbor, the Market Street Mission.
The Cambria also agreed to create two ground-level retail spaces, accessible from Bank Street and from inside the hotel.
Armington, the council president, said all eyes will be on the Cambria’s plan to meet its guests’ parking needs via valet service to the Dalton garage, several minutes away.
“There’s definitely demand for additional hotel space,” Armington said. “If they make the valet parking work, it will work. If not, it will go under.”