Morristown soul food saga finally ends… or does it?

The former Orchard Glass, site of a proposed soul food restaurant in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Jack McDonald.
The former Orchard Glass, site of a proposed soul food restaurant in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Jack McDonald.
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It took a dozen meetings over 15 months, but a soul food restaurant finally has obtained the Morristown planning board’s blessing to open at 51 Bank Street.

By a unanimous vote last week, the board granted a variance for Sandi’s SoulBites, waiving a requirement for 42 parking spaces.

The restaurant had been opposed vigorously by Jack McDonald, landlord of an adjacent office building leased to RevHealth.

McDonald still has 45 days to file an appeal. He would not say if he intends to do so. His lawyer, Heather Suarez, did not return calls seeking comment.

Jack McDonald, left, and his attorney, Heather Suarez, listen to questions from Jay DeLaney Jr., attorney for proposed soul food restaurant, at March hearing before the Morristown planning board. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jack McDonald, left, and his attorney, Heather Suarez, listen to questions from Jay DeLaney Jr., attorney for proposed soul food restaurant, at March hearing before the Morristown planning board. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

They have expressed concerns that restaurant patrons will try to park at the office building. They also contended Bank Street is too narrow to safely accommodate restaurant traffic.

And their expert witnesses argued the applicants’ proposal was not actually a restaurant, but a cafeteria– a non-permitted use that should have required a variance from the zoning board.  Usually, that is a more arduous route for approvals.

Jay DeLaney Jr., attorney for restaurant applicant Sandra McNeil Rogers, could not be reached for comment.

Over the course of the hearings, DeLaney and planning board members grew exasperated with Suarez’ repeated requests for more time, and by tactics that included attempting, unsuccessfully, to require sworn testimony from the Morristown Parking Authority to explain its parking space calculations.

One board member accused Suarez of “meandering,” and two of her witnesses were rejected when the board questioned their expertise.

Stefan Armington, the town council liaison, was the only board member to oppose the application. He was not allowed to vote on Thursday because he already voted no in June, when the board authorized the approval resolution. 

Allowing a parking waiver for an establishment outside the central business district “was an extremely bad precedent,” Armington said last week.

Planning board Chairman Joe Stanley, Vice Chair Tim Murphy and Council Liaison Stefan Armington listen to restaurant presentation. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Planning board Chairman Joe Stanley, Vice Chair Tim Murphy and Council Liaison Stefan Armington listen to restaurant presentation. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Patrons of the family operated restaurant, which anticipates catering mostly to a lunchtime crowd and takeout customers, will be expected to use metered street parking or three parking garages in the vicinity.

While the board went to great lengths to be “be fair to everyone,” board Chairman Joe Stanley said “it went way too long.”

He said the board denied another last-minute request by Suarez for more time. 

“There were times at some meetings where we said ‘Enough!'” Stanley said.

McDonald’s concerns about parking and speeding are beyond the applicant’s control; those are enforcement issues for the police and the parking authority, the chairman said.

“We were comfortable with what we put in the resolution. It reflected our deliberations. We didn’t see any need to go any further… we were satisfied that the applicant addressed all of the concerns,” Stanley said.

From left, Morristown planning board attorney John Inglesino and members Dick Tighe, Joe Stanley and Tim Murphy wade through soul food restaurant plans in January 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
From left, Morristown planning board attorney John Inglesino and members Dick Tighe, Joe Stanley and Tim Murphy wade through soul food restaurant plans in January 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Other variances pertained to property line setbacks. Rogers also agreed to re-position an exhaust chimney.

The restaurant is planned for the former site of Orchard Glass, a one-story building that will be renovated.  Previously, Rogers secured approvals to knock down the structure and build a three-story dance studio. McDonald did not object to that use, testifying that he deemed it less intensive than a restaurant.

Sign in May 2018 announces Sandi's SoulBites soul food restaurant coming to 82 Speedwell Ave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Sign in May 2018 announces Sandi’s SoulBites soul food restaurant coming to 82 Speedwell Ave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Approved hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. The restaurant will be closed on Sundays. All deliveries must be accommodated on-site, or along loading areas on Bank Street northeast of Ann Street.

Rogers, a former trustee of the Morris School District, appears to have a Plan B, just in case appeals drag things out further.

She has posted “Coming Soon” signs for Sandi’s SoulBites in a vacant storefront at 82 Speedwell Ave., across from Headquarters Plaza. Her website says a portion of restaurant revenue will go to local charities.

Sign in May 2018 announces Sandi's SoulBites soul food restaurant coming to 82 Speedwell Ave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
BACKUP PLAN? Sign in May 2018 announces Sandi’s SoulBites soul food restaurant coming to 82 Speedwell Ave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Isn’t there a parking deck like less than a block away from this location?

    RevHealth landlord sounds like they’re in this for the drama. How much township time/money are they wasting by pushing back so hard on something that has so little bearing on them? Do they not know they can have violators who park illegally towed?

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