Morris Township and Morristown are not militarizing their border. Not yet, anyway.
But a war of words erupted at Thursday afternoon’s Township Committee meeting between Committee members and Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who questioned the traffic spillover of a proposed 115-unit housing project just over the town line on Mt. Kemble Avenue.
Dougherty and Committeeman Bruce Sisler traded verbal jabs over which municipality has been more (or less) cooperative as the project has percolated since 2016.
Video: Morristown Mayor and Morris Township Committee mix it up:
“Be mindful that we are going to be involved in what takes place on our border,” Dougherty said.
“I will say this, Mr. Mayor, that would be a breath of fresh air, to be honest with you…we have been asking Morristown to be involved in this process several times,” Sisler said.
“If you want to talk frank, you proposed 300-something units on a two-lane state road that clearly was an overly intensified use,” Dougherty shot back.
Township Deputy Mayor Matheu Nunn praised Dougherty (“If I lived in Morristown, I would vote for him”), then suggested Dougherty was motivated by his home’s proximity to the Mt. Kemble site.
Fuming afterwards, Dougherty, a Democrat, called Nunn’s remarks “sophomoric and unprofessional,” and accused the Republican-controlled Committee of rushing the approval process without public input.
He questioned whether the property straddling the border is truly “blighted”–a necessary condition for a redevelopment designation–and vowed to return with Morristown residents to the Township Committee’s May 16 meeting, when a public hearing and final vote are scheduled for the plan.
Introduced by a 3-2 vote on Thursday, that plan spells out parameters for redeveloping the Mt. Kemble site of the Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute. The facility is moving to Madison and Atlantic Health is selling the land to an as-yet-unnamed builder.
The plan allows 93 apartments on the west side of Mt. Kemble Avenue (state Route 202) and 22 townhouses on the eastern side, according to Township Administrator Tim Quinn. Twenty-three of the apartments would be designated as affordable units.
Dissenting votes came from Democrats John Arvanites and Cathy Wilson, who expressed concerns about the density.
Participating by telephone, Wilson abstained on separate ordinances intended to ensure the town’s compliance with a December 2017 affordable housing settlement.
Wilson said she only received the measures on Wednesday and had not yet reviewed them. A map of new affordable housing zones was not included, either, she added. Quinn cited the map’s large file size.
Nunn accused Wilson, who is the Township Democratic chairperson, of “doing the bidding of our neighbors” by opposing the redevelopment.
Sisler, who seeks re-election, grew visibly angry talking about Wilson, prompting someone from the back rows of the sparsely attended 5 pm meeting to shout: “Shut up!”
“I mean, come on,” Sisler said. “It is unacceptable and it should be unacceptable for the people that voted for any of us, to say ‘I didn’t have time to understand and read this’ or even sit down and ask some questions before the meeting.
“You voted for us,” he told the spectators. “You asked us to sit here and read the ordinances. You asked us to come here and make the decisions. You voted, you asked us to do this.”
Video: Committeemen Sisler and Nunn sound off:
The Township’s immediate affordable housing obligation is 400 units. That number largely should be achieved as the former Honeywell and Colgate-Palmolive sites are redeveloped, Quinn said.
Altogether, the settlement calls for 767 affordable units. One ordinance introduced on Thursday mandates affordable set-asides by any future developments of five or more units.
Fifteen percent of such rental projects must be affordable. The set-aside is 20 percent for projects that sell housing, Township Planner Paul Phillips explained.
On June 15, the Township must satisfy a judge that it has taken steps toward fulfilling its settlement promises.
The Mt. Kemble plan heads to the Township planning board on Monday, but only to ensure its compliance with the Township zoning master plan, said Township Engineer Jim Slate. The public can weigh in at the May 16 Committee meeting, he said.
Traffic studies will come when a redeveloper is approved and presents site plans to the planning board, the engineer said.
Sources have told Morristown Green that Toll Brothers Commercial, a rental developer based in Horsham, PA, has a contract to buy the Mount Kemble Avenue property from the Atlantic Health System.
Video: Can’t we all get along?