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.
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.
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.
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.
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.