Residents try to send storage project packing at Morristown council meeting

Artist's rendering of proposed self-storage building for 175 Morris St. in Morristown. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.
Artist's rendering of proposed self-storage building for 175 Morris St. in Morristown. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.
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By Anna Bechtel and Kevin Coughlin

The third time definitely was not the charm for the proposed developer of a storage building on Morris Street.

At a Morristown council meeting spanning more than two hours, residents on Thursday vigorously objected to a four-story, 102,600-square-foot self-storage facility in a redevelopment zone adjacent to new apartments.

Hampshire Realty, which had knocked one story off its plans after hearing neighbors’ concerns at public workshops in 2016 and 2017, had hoped to sway the council to amend town zoning to allow storage facilities, and to exceed a three-story restriction for this part of Morris Street.

But after playing musical chairs with expert witnesses, debating procedural protocols, and fielding a barrage of questions from the audience, Council President Toshiba Foster finally adjourned the meeting without any verdict from the governing body, which doubles as the town’s redevelopment authority.

Aerial view of the site of proposed storage facility at 175 Morris St. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.
Aerial view of the site of proposed storage facility at 175 Morris St. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.

Hampshire’s team indicated it wishes to keep listening, and to accommodate public concerns. Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes 175 Morris St., has heard enough.

“The proposed use is inappropriate for the location,” Iannaccone said later. “I think the public was correct with its concerns and position on the appropriateness of the use and scale of the proposed storage facility.”

Hampshire’s attorney, Frank Vitolo, and planner Paul Phillips had contended the storage facility would benefit tenants of apartments being constructed across Morristown, and would improve a “blighted” parcel that formerly housed an auto repair shop and an oil distribution operation.

READ HAMPSHIRE’S PRESENTATION

Tom Werder, executive director of the nonprofit Morris Arts, also testified that the local arts scene would flourish thanks to a 2,600-square-foot studio that Hampshire promised to lease at $1 per square foot, and an outdoor performance space.

But residents questioned whether they would be disturbed by noise from outdoor arts events, and by late night traffic from storage customers. They also criticized architectural drawings of the building for omitting signage, topography and surrounding homes, omissions they said failed to place the project into perspective.

Hampshire’s team cited the proposed facility’s easy access to Route 287, and said no more than 20- to 27 cars were anticipated daily–fewer than a comparably sized apartment building might generate. Eighty percent of users would be individuals, and the remainder would be commercial customers, the developer predicted.

Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts, addresses council, Feb. 8, 2018. Photo by Anna Bechtel
Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts, addresses council, Feb. 8, 2018. Photo by Anna Bechtel

Residents who have rented storage space elsewhere countered that those places
were busy, and they have witnessed assorted activities during their visits. The developer gave assurances that the Morris Street site would have more supervision.

Lucille Knapnik and Ursula Clay questioned truck access to the site and potential traffic problems, because all turns in and out would be from the eastbound  lanes of Morris Street.

Iannaccone, who was dismayed that Hampshire provided no background materials prior to the meeting, noted that two storage facilities already exist just outside of town, on East Hanover Avenue, and another 77,000-square-foot storage building is coming to the former Honeywell campus in Morris Township.

Councilwoman Alison Deeb and some residents liked the idea of the arts studio. Yet there were many questions. Resident Pam Hasegawa asked if the studio might include space to house artists, since they presumably cannot afford local apartment rents if they can’t afford studios.

Rendering of proposed storage site at 175 Morris St. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.
Rendering of proposed storage site at 175 Morris St. Image courtesy of Hampshire Realty.

Some audience members doubted the practicality of 50 artists sharing 10 art cubicles measuring 10-by-16 feet apiece. Resident Linda Carrington inquired about what activities might occur in the proposed plaza; Werder said they could include bands, and sculpture-welding.

Councilman Iannaccone challenged Hampshire’s calculation of the plaza size, asserting that an existing sidewalk got factored in improperly.

Former Councilwoman Margret Brady, from the Franklin Corners neighborhood, said Morristown does little to promote its rich history and asserted the storage building could hurt tourism.

Presenting the developer with a map by the late Merrill Harvey depicting four nearby historic sites– the Washington’s Headquarters Historical Museum, the Ford Mansion, Acorn Hall, and the the Schuyler-Hamilton House–Brady suggested the proposed storage building would distract tourists en route to those venues.

She recounted efforts to eliminate junk yards and warehouses across town, asserting that the vision of a 2013 Morris Street Redevelopment Plan was to reclaim and re-imagine derelict parcels, to create “cohesive residential neighborhoods” that reflect and enhance those neighborhoods.

A community park, fire station, or more housing would be preferable to a storage building, in her view.

“The key is, in the most densely populated area of Morristown, the less density the better,”  Brady said.

Anna Bechtel is a sophomore at Drew University, where she is majoring in English.

Margret Brady raises questions about proposed storage building, Feb. 8, 2018. Photo by Anna Bechtel.
Margret Brady raises questions about proposed storage building, Feb. 8, 2018. Photo by Anna Bechtel.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I think Morristown can do better than a storage facility at this inappropriate location. We have no obligation to save Hampshire from a five million dollar mistake. Period!

  2. Morristown is a young, budding city. Storage facilities belong on the side of a highway, not in the center of a city. If you need a storage facility you need fewer things, stop trying to fit your McMansion in an apartment.

  3. I agree that this is not an appropriate land use for this neighborhood, and it is impressive that it magically moves forward in spite of the fact that each opportunity for public comment results in overwhelmingly negative feedback. Working sessions with the Town must be quite different.
    I think it looks like a giant NYC elementary school, but my concern comes much more from function than appearance, I’m afraid. I believe developers and vendor reps are underplaying the potential for inappropriate uses. In 750 units, there is a lot of room for creativity. Small businesses may use units for warehouse space, and householders may use them for overflow material goods, but people also use them to support homelessness, have a warm place to hang out, keep illegal stuff, do deals, etc. No one says whether units will be climate controlled or not and I believe there is no plan to have a resident manager, who would oversee off-hours useage. Everyone seems to scoff, but there remain a lot of unknowns about how this will play out.

  4. Thank you Morristown Green for your coverage of the town hall meeting! I attended the meeting to learn a bit more about the proposed storage unit, as my husband and I had recently moved to the Washington’s Headquarters neighborhood from NYC. We selected WH for our first home because we loved the charm and people of the surrounding community – lots of families and dogs (we quickly added a puppy to our brood!) After attending the public meeting with an open mind, I now unwaveringly believe that a 100k+ sf storage unit would be an inappropriate use of that space which falls in a residential zone (albeit which has been recently listed as a ‘redevelopment space’). With two storage units nearby and another well under way, I’m not sure the residents of Morristown need access to another storage unit so close – and if they do, I think would be more appropriate for such a building to be developed in a commercial zone, as are most, if not all, other storage buildings in the state. I love the idea of a space for artists to pursue their craft, especially one that offers a cost-effective rent for them, but that is not reason enough to pursue this project. Perhaps an option for this space would be a larger series of artists work & live spaces?!

  5. So many reasons why the storage units Should Not Be Allowed….., 1, !he storage units are surrounded, front and back by historic Morristown housing stock, and 2, and surrounded by many new residential units…3. this area has been undergoing a Residential Resurgence, as the Mayor well knows …4. Storage units are placed in Industrial Zones, the zone would have to be changed for the storage units to go there; the Morristown Master Plan does not allow storage units there, ..the Aministration should support the Master Plan…5. placing an arts center in the front of the building does not hide the fact that it is essentially an ugly, high rise giant poorly designed building that would be the center piece of that area…clearly that is not what most citizens of Morristown want; many citizens came out Again to voice their disapproval; how many times do citizens need to come out to speak against this massive industrial proposal?… 5. storage units are usually placed along highways, and towns all over the country are fighting Against having them in their town…..6. storage units lower the property values of the nearby residential areas, this Does Not Support our Residential Areas……7. Storage units help support Developers who take advantage of Morristown’s desirabiltiy by building smaller and smaller sq. area living units so that folks living in them do not have enough storage space…Why should these greedy tiny-living-space residential developers, be helped by the the town to give permission to greedy developers who build storage spaces for folks who don’t have enough space due to tiny living areas?…….8. the site is close to the train station and walking distance to the Green so it’s a perfect place for more residential units; that is what makes Morristown a great space to live; storage units do not make Morristown a great place to live…Putting residential units there would be “Smart Growth” as our mayor ofen touts as he allow more intense developments in our town 9. the attorney for the proposal, a nice but misguided fellow, is also on the Morris Arts Council, a smart move by the developer..10 Once built the facility is rented by another corp that actually runs the facility, so control is lost 11…Toshiba Foster, council president was wise to adjorn the meeting and of course, wonderful, so unusual, not afraid to speak up 1st ward Councilman Robert Iannocone once again defended his ward and spoke for the good of all of Morristown residents…………So who wins in this battle if the storage units are allowed?….not the residents of Morristown !!!…..the arts studio and space is a bribe for the public to swallow and make the units more palatable….it’s an attempt to put lipstick on a pig, but the storage units would still be clearly a Pig in Residential Morristown….it is not in the best interests of Morristown !!

  6. I am against the proposed storage facility. It is not an appropriate use for that space. The project would require variances that should not be allowed. Developments should be aligned with town planning. Hampshire Properties should work with knowledgeable town residents to plan a proper development of the space.

  7. Thank you Morristown Green for your coverage of the town council meeting! I attended on behalf of my husband and I both, who recently moved out of New York City and purchased our first home in Washington’s Headquarters. What attracted us to buy our first home here, besides the beautiful homes and peaceful neighborhood, was the tight knit community composed of families of all ages, including lots of kids and pets. I went into the Town Council meeting not knowing much background on this topic, as I am ‘new to town’, and also went in with an open mind. After listening to the concerns of the public, as well as listening to the developer, Town Planning spokesperson, Morris Arts professional, and representative from the storage company itself, I now unwaveringly believe that a 4 story storage facility would be an inappropriate use of the vacant lot. Also, as Ursula mentioned in the meeting, while the development company took down the proposed building by one story, what should be mentioned is that they expanded the building in width to compensate, so the overall square footage of space taken up by the proposed storage unit at the beginning of the historic, residential Washington’s Headquarters is over 100k square feet. As the article mentions, there are two storage units nearby and one other well under way to being built on Morris Avenue; do our residents really require a 4th storage unit option? If so (and that is a big if so!) then a commercial location within town would be more suitable. Thank you again for your fair coverage of the Town Council meeting, Morristown Green!

  8. It appears that Matthew hasn’t been back to his old neighborhood in a while. The redevelopment plan created for this locations, which includes this site and not the gas stations, has been vastly improved as a result of that plan. The former existing warehouse has been converted to housing. An entire townhouse community now borders the railroad tracks with a landscaped buffer. It abuts the proposed warehouse site. The derelict homes on Morris have been rehabbed. The owners and renters of those new units were promised the same type of use for the adjacent site, included in that zone. The majority of the current council, serving as the redevelopment committee were not involved in the creation of that plan and yet the Town government refused to provide those hearing the presentation, a copy of the actual study or plan to review and even the old plan, once posted on the Twon website is no longer there.

    I can understand why the developer Hampshire does not want his renderings made public. Its hard to disguise a 100,000 SF box of a building with a tiny 2,600 one story greenhouse styled structure attached to the front corner. The rendering in the article features the fake windows and the flat roof that overwhelm or completely hide the nearby homes. Actually the little 2,600SF, arts dedicated space attached to a part of the front of the warehouse, and proposed to be rented to Morris Arts for $2,600 per month, is the size of the majority of the homes surrounding this site.

    Would anyone want a building that size near their home?. Would this building in any residential neighborhood contribute to its residential or historic character as required? The architect himself, when questioned about the building’s appearance, stated “its a storage building”. In other words, a building not intended to serve any other purpose but its industrial use. According to the data provided by the Hampshire expert witnesses, the warehouse is intended to draw customers from the 56,000 area residents with easy access to Rt. 287. With the entire Morristown population of 18,500, that contradicts Hampshire’s claim that their plans were intended cater to local apartment owners and that traffic would not be an issue.

  9. Its surrounded by two gas stations, train tracks and a busy road. This is perfect for a beautiful self-storage building like that… And I used to live in those new apartments. Would have been a nice addition!

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