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.
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.