Border war? Sparks fly between Morristown and Morris Township officials at Township meeting

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty questions the Morris Township Committee about a housing project contemplated for the municipal border, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty questions the Morris Township Committee about a housing project contemplated for the municipal border, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

Morris Township Committeeman Bruce Sisler, right, responds to Morristown's mayor, while Township Attorney John Mills listens, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris Township Committeeman Bruce Sisler, right, responds to Morristown’s mayor, while Township Attorney John Mills listens, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

Township Deputy Mayor Matheu Nunn suggested Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty was concerned by a proposed project's proximity to his home; Dougherty called the remark "sophomoric and unprofessional," May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Township Deputy Mayor Matheu Nunn suggested Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty was concerned by a proposed project’s proximity to his home; Dougherty called the remark “sophomoric and unprofessional,” May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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. 

GOING, GOING... ? The Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute is moving from Morris Township to Madison; a housing project is envisioned for the site. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

A small crowd attended the 5 pm special meeting. Township Administrator Tim Quinn said a Committee member -- he decline to say which one--requested the early start time because of a 'personal matter.' Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A small crowd attended the 5 pm special meeting. Township Administrator Tim Quinn said a Committee member — he decline to say which one–requested the early start time because of a ‘personal matter.’ Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, left, confers with Program Coordinator Rebecca Feldman and town Planner Phil Abramson before Morris Township Committee meeting, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, left, confers with Program Coordinator Rebecca Feldman and town Planner Phil Abramson before Morris Township Committee meeting, May 3, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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?

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9 COMMENTS

  1. TOLL BROS BUILDS HIGH CLASS,METICULOUS QUALITY AND WELL THOUGHT OUT COMMUNITIES. THE SITE FOR THE PROPERTY IS GOING TO BE DEVELOLPED, REGARDLESS, UNLESS WE WANT ANOTHER DECAYED VACANT SITE SIMILAR TO SPRING STREET. Let them build the quality. EARLY STREET IS A DRAGWAY OF A PASS THROUGH, NEEDS SPEED BUMPS, SIGNS ETC. THE EARLY STREET PROJECTS ARE DAMAGED WITHOUT THE KNOCKOUT OF THE SPEEDWELL BLOCK ACROSS FROM CVS, AS WELL AS CLINTON STREET. THE PROJECTS WILL BE COUNTER PRODUCTIVE WITHOUT ALL PARTS OF THE REDEVELOPMENT PHASES INITIALLY PLANNED TO APPROVE THE SITE WORK. PEOPLE WILL NOT STAY LONGTERM RESIDENTS OTHERWISE.

  2. Toll brothers isn’t one of Dougherty’s favored developers, so he’s going to teach them some respect. In the meantime you can’t find a parking space in town. Don’t fall for this charade.

  3. All you have to do is look at the numbers. The majority of the traffic in Morristown is not from Morristown development but from commuters passing through our town to get home or to work elsewhere because the Towns surrounding Morristown block efforts for any kind of by-pass to enable commuters to avoid driving through Morristown. As a Morristown resident, I don’t need to leave Town to have most of my needs net. Residents of Harding Twp. Morristown Twp. Mendham and most other towns would find it difficult to manage without coming to Morristown.
    Its Morristown taxes that pay for the services received by the many non-profits, actually serving a majority of residents from other communities. Next time your drive here for medical treatment, legal services , to worship or to volunteer at your favorite charity, all based in Morristown, think about the impact those services would have if they were located in your community.
    When you consider the size of Morristown compared to its neighbors and all the services located here, our total development within our boundaries is far less than the development that surrounds us on all sides.

  4. Mayor Dougherty certainly has the right, as a resident and as a representative of Morristown, to comment before the Township Committee on this proposed development. When I served as a Morris Township elected official I attended similar meetings in Hanover and Morristown regarding proposed developments and the impact on the Township.
    If Morristown is to be credited for their development projects then they should not criticize neighboring towns for doing the same. At the very least they should look in the mirror and publicly admit to the impacts of their policies on regional traffic before casting stones.
    What hasn’t been mentioned here (as it was not subject of the Morris Township meeting) is this – what is the impact of development on the Morristown side of this property? And how does that compare to what is being proposed by the Township?

  5. This is yet another “pin the traffic on another town” border development. Add it to the Hanover cramming of East Hanover Ave, the sprawling development of the old Mennen property, and others. In the traffic cross-hairs: Morristown and Morris Plains, about to be force fed commuter cars, school buses and delivery tractor trailers serving the “rateables” outside their boundaries and tax reach. We need regional planning and regional eatable revenue sharing and we need it now.

  6. Remarkable that Mayor Dougherty would show up to complain about development in Morris Township. Has any Mayor in NJ pushed through more development than Tim Dougherty in the last decade? Downtown Morristown at morning & evening rush hour is a total disaster because of 10yrs of mass development with no thought leadership on the impact to daily traffic. How many active apt developments are being built in Morristown at this very moment??
    Every municipality surrounding Morristown has suffered as a result, and Tim surfaces at meeting that involves a proposed development at the end of the street where he resides to complain about the impact to Morristown? Has he forgotten about the Hotel/retail complex with no additional parking, on essentially the SAME road, that he is wedging into a TINY space ¼ mile away?? Comical….NIMBY at the highest levels. Congrats Mr. Mayor, you’ve outdone yourself.

  7. Interesting, since Morristown approved HUNDREDS of units on a RESIDENTIAL street feeding into the same 2 lane State highway without blinking an eye.

  8. As I stated last night, I think Tim has done an excellent job in Morristown. I think his wife, Mary, will make a fine Freeholder if she wins.

    But, consider the following:

    -Cathy and John have been aware of our redevelopment plans all year;

    -Cathy and John approved our affordable housing plan, which included this project, and, in turn, allowed us to maintain this plan with the Superior Court;

    -based on the unanimous approval of the Township Committee, which had not wavered until last night, we were in a positition to settle our affordable housing litigation with a final hearing in Superior Court to occur in June;

    -Cathy and John suddenly — the very same night the Mayor of Morristown shows up and expresses concern about the project — vote “no” due to questions of density and traffic;

    -neither Cathy nor John have expressed concerns with our affordable housing plans prior to May 3;

    -Cathy and John have approved of the Colgate redevelopment plan, which is also in close proximity to Morristown;

    -Cathy and John did not question traffic studies or density at the Colgate site; and

    -the Mayor of Morristown did not come to our meetings to question traffic or density at the Colgate site, which may impact his residents on MLK in Morristown.

    To be sure, the Mayor of Morristown has a right to express concerns about a project that is in close proximity to his home; I do not begrudge him in that regard. I begrudge my colleagues who only expressed reservations about this project after they learned of Mayor Dougherty’s position.

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