Morristown storage project coming out of mothballs, Feb. 8

Don Engels of Hampshire speaks at presentation for proposed Morris Street project, Jan. 18, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Don Engels of Hampshire speaks at presentation for proposed Morris Street project, Jan. 18, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier


Whatever happened to the controversial self-serve storage building proposed for Morris Street back in 2016?

Morristown residents will find out this Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, when Hampshire Realty formally presents its plans to the town council at 7 pm.

The developer hopes the town will amend a redevelopment zone to allow a four-story storage facility at 175 Morris St., former site of Milelli’s Auto Service and Towing and an oil distribution operation.

Over the last few years Morristown has approved a wave of new apartments which, presumably, could use some extra storage space. Storage facilities are not among permitted business uses, however, and structures in this zone are restricted to three stories.

“We’re there to present our plan for the project, but also to field questions from the council and the public, and explain why it’s a terrific fit for Morristown and how it comports with the redevelopment plan and the town master plan,” said Frank Vitolo, attorney for the project.

A five-story, 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility and artists studio is proposed for this location on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
This former auto repair site has been cleared for a proposed four-story, 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility and artists studio on Morris Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Residents strongly objected to plans for a five-story, 100,000-square-foot storage building pitched by Hampshire at a public workshop in July 2016

Along with concerns about the height and potential traffic, some residents have argued that a storage facility is wrong for an area they envision as a gateway to downtown Morristown.

More than 70 apartments were constructed next door as part of a 2012 amendment to the redevelopment zone, and residents even have floated the idea of a new firehouse for the former Milelli’s site.

Hampshire lopped off one story for a public presentation in January 2017.  The developer still wants the same square footage, for about 900 self-store units, and continues to offer 2,600 square feet to Morris Arts for a public studio.

That’s where things stood for the rest of 2017, which happened to be a mayoral election year.

Scheduling a hearing has been at the council’s discretion, because the project requires the town to amend a redevelopment zone, Vitolo said.

Town Planner Phil Abramson attributed the delay to “scheduling issues.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty said he did not ask anyone to delay the project during the campaign. “My election wouldn’t have mattered either way,” he said, declining to endorse or condemn the storage proposal.

“It’s up to the applicant to make his case,” Dougherty said, noting that a site cleanup and demolition have taken place in the interim. Major projects often take time to unfold, he said.

The council has received no information about Thursday’s presentation from the developer or town officials, said Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the proposed redevelopment site.

“They didn’t show us anything,” Iannaccone said. “Even the agenda is not clear what they’re coming for.”

Based on public reaction at the workshops, the councilman indicated he’s not inclined to support the project. “I basically vote the way my constituents ask me to vote,” Iannaccone said.

The council, which doubles as the town redevelopment authority, has seen some turnover since the last workshop. Veteran Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris left after an unsuccessful mayoral bid, and was replaced last month by David Silva.

Hampshire requested Thursday’s meeting to get a sense of what kind of redevelopment the council wants, said Abramson.

“What can be expected is an indicator one way or another on how they would look to proceed,” the planner said. “The developer would like to know the council’s reaction to the proposal and whether it makes sense to prepare something for them to vote on.”

Hampshire, which created an entity called Morris Street 2015 LLC for this project, paid $5 million for the property, according to public records.

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  1. It does look better as open space. This the most densely populated area of Morristown, with the least amount of open space.
    I fail to see how adding 100,000 square feet for an industrial use, with a fenced parking area, available 24 hours a day to storage users with the code to open the gate, on this site, as proposed by Hampshire Development, would benefit this redevelopment zone in any way.

  2. Agree that the vacant property is an improvement over the abandoned non-conforming use that was there. Industrial buildings in in an area dedicated to new residential uses is never a good idea. Matt is obviously not aware that the State and the Town have lands laws to protect their residents from this kind of use. I continue to be amazed that this most densely populated part of Morristown has the least amount of open space for any purpose.

  3. It even all looks better just as a vacant property than what was there. I think self storage is smart for this land