Morristown’s house with nine lives dodges the wrecking ball again

Commercial house at 10 DeHart St. would be replaced by bowling nightclub if the town approves a liquor license transfer sought by the Walsh family. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
This house at 10 DeHart St. may be getting a new address. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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It took three meetings, an order for opponents to “take it outside,” and an 11th-hour reprieve–literally.

When Tuesday’s drama finally ended, a Morristown realtor had tentative permission to relocate a nomadic three-story house from DeHart Street to Catherine Lane in the town’s “Little Dublin” neighborhood.

Morristown zoning board member James Bednarz, left, examines plan presented by consultant Rusty Schommer, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown zoning board member James Bednarz, left, examines plan presented by consultant Rusty Schommer, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

If the zoning board gives final approval next month to plans that were hastily revised and conditionally okayed after 11 pm on Tuesday, the 122-year-old structure should get its third new address since 2002, when it was moved from Pine Street to DeHart.

“I think what we’re ending up with is a good plan. It satisfies moving the building, and it satisfies concerns of neighbors,” said realtor Kathryn “Kit” Godby, who said she has an agreement to acquire the gambrel-roofed house from the Walsh family.

The Walshes, anxious to be rid of the house so they can proceed with construction of a restaurant at 10 DeHart St., intended to demolish the house if the board on Tuesday did not grant zoning variances required for its proposed new location, Godby’s attorney, Brian Fahey, told the board.

That pressure did not sit well with board members Jeffrey Stiles and Linda Carrington.

Kathryn Oram, Don Felber and Kathryn "Kit" Godby at Morristown zoning board hearing, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Kathryn Oram, left, with her parents, Don Felber and Kathryn “Kit” Godby at Morristown zoning board hearing, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Carrington, who abstained from voting (the measure passed, 5-0), noted that the house relocation came up in February at a planning board hearing for the restaurant.

“They had time to discuss this at their leisure. Now our feet are to the fire. I feel uncomfortable with that,” Carrington said.

Fahey was the Walshes’ attorney at the February hearing; on Tuesday he said he no longer represents the restaurant project.

“The reality is the reality. We have to vote yes or no tonight,” zoning board Chairwoman Meredith Marcus told Carrington.

The board seemed poised to reject the application. But Marcus directed Godby’s team to step out to the lobby and talk with objectors from Catherine Lane, a quaint, narrow street that was home to Irish immigrant laborers a century ago.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:

Morristown zoning board member James Bednarz, left, examines plan presented by consultant Rusty Schommer, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown zoning board Chairwoman Meredith Marcus questions attorney Brian Fahey, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Kathryn Oram, Don Felber and Kathryn "Kit" Godby at Morristown zoning board hearing, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Gulisanos--Jamie, Julie and Josie, 10--live across the street from the proposed house relocation site on Catherine Lane in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Oct. 18, 2017
Attorney Brian Fahey addresses Morristown zoning board, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Zoning board member James Bednarz makes a point, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Planner Rusty Schommer testifies, as Morristown board member Noelle Nish listens, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown zoning board member Jeffrey Stiles, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Zoning board Chairwoman Meredith Marcus and Vice Chair Michael Schmidt, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Realtor Kathryn "Kit" Godby listens to zoning board hearing her application to relocate a Morristown house, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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P1660613 - Morristown zoning board member James Bednarz, left, examines plan presented by consultant Rusty Schommer, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Godby sought a variance to convert the relocated house to a three-family rental, on a lot zoned for one family. Neighbors raised concerns about traffic, parking and snow removal.

They also informed the board that Godby’s removal of more than a dozen trees in February violated terms of a 1985 town variance, which had enabled her to erect eight rental units on the property, fronting Madison Street. 

The Gulisanos--Jamie, Julie and Josie, 10--live across the street from the proposed house relocation site on Catherine Lane in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Oct. 18, 2017
The Gulisanos–Jamie, Julie and Josie, 10–live across the street from the proposed house relocation site on Catherine Lane in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Oct. 18, 2017

“It was like a scorched-earth thing,” said Jamie Gulisano, whose family lives across the street from the lot on Catherine Lane.

“They left us with no privacy,” said Dominick Paragano, whose son, Dominick Jr., lives next door to the proposed site.

After huddling with residents for about 20 minutes, Fahey and planning consultant Rusty Schommer returned to the board with plans to:

  • scale the house rentals from three families to two families (adding a fourth bedroom);
  • eliminate a Catherine Lane driveway, making Madison Street the only vehicle access point to the property, as suggested by board member James Bednarz;
  • reduce total on-site parking spaces from 14 to 10;
  • replace the lost trees with “dense evergreen plantings.”

The board anticipates a final vote on those revisions on Nov. 15, 2017. 

Over the years, the house has been a private residence, an office building, a salon and a deli.

Godby said she hopes to move the building quickly, although she acknowledged that utility companies must get involved, to ensure that power lines are not damaged, and police will be needed to direct traffic.

More drama is possible.

Referring to Godby, Brian Walsh sent a letter to the zoning board on Oct. 10 stating “there is no contract between us.”

Godby declined to disclose details of her acquisition. Walsh could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Current residents of Catherine Lane seemed more concerned about the need to pull down their shades, so they could walk around their homes in the nude than appreciate the efforts of Kathryn Godby to preserve what was once one of Morristown’s slum areas. She purchased with her late husband Michael Godby a rundown row of cold water flats and refurbished it. This was an important part of the preservation of the entire neighborhood. She has worked tirelessly over the years to restore what were considered undesirable properties in rundown condition, much to Morristown and the neighborhoods where they were located benefit.
    While it would have been much cheaper to simply have constructed a modern new structure on the site, Godby choose do something that would continue to preserve Morristown’s historic character on the same block where another dwelling was once called the Beehive, because there were so many people living there at the same time, that Town officials could not keep track of the number. The neighborhood has come a long way since that time and I applaud Kathryn Godby for continuing her efforts to preserve Morristown’s historic character in ways that benefit the neighborhood.

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