In Joni Mitchell’s heyday, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
She might sing a different tune in 21st-century Morristown, where a developer aims to reverse the equation.
“We build communities, not just buildings,” Dan Sudler of Bijou Properties told the town council, which on Thursday got its first look at plans for a five-story, L-shaped 89-unit housing complex behind the century-old Morristown train station.
If the Hoboken company wins a series of approvals from the town, and buys the 1.75-acre parking lot from the Morristown Parking Authority, it will redevelop a space that has been on drawing boards since at least 1999, when it was earmarked to become part of a “Transit Village.”
The town designated the lot for redevelopment in 2006.
“This will be a transformative and catalytic project for the area,” town Planner Phil Abramson said. Mayor Tim Dougherty expressed hope the excitement “becomes contagious” for owners of nearby lots ripe for redevelopment.
“You’re going to say, ‘Wow, this is Morristown! This is very special'” when your train pulls into the station, said project architect Dean Marchetto, who designed the triangular Fox Rothschild office, among other Morristown structures.
Marchetto promised an “elegant landmark” of brick masonry in a “Grand Hotel style” that will complement the venerable station. Abramson anticipates apartments, not condos.
Plans call for two studios, 41 single-bedroom units, 41 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom layouts, at rents to be determined. The rooftop would get a pair of duplexes and a terrace, according to Marchetto, and both ends of the L would have retail: 1,770 square feet at one end, 3,580 square feet at the other.
Town zoning mandates pricing 15 percent of the units as affordable for people with low- and moderate-incomes.
Today, the lot has 72 parking spaces. The proposed project would have 137, all submerged from view. Seventy-four spaces in the basement would be reserved for residents. Another 54 would be for public use, and 11 spaces would have dual use, Marchetto told the council.
The Bijou proposal was chosen over a handful of others that envisioned larger projects, Abramson said. Zoning would have allowed six stories and 105 units, he said.
For years, the planner said, officials longed to spruce up the drab area where people descend from their trains.
“It’s a parking lot…It doesn’t really reflect how great Morristown is,” Abramson said.
Another goal, he said, is to make the area around Lafayette Avenue–Morristown’s second-heaviest-traveled artery, with 15,000 vehicles daily–“more livable.” Residents of Olyphant Drive and Jardine Road already have been consulted, he said.
Abramson pledged to meet with owners of the All County Rental Center, who attended Thursday’s council presentation to learn more about how the proposed development will affect their business.
Marchetto described Bijou Properties as a boutique builder of lofts and apartments that emphasize green design.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb asked if anything can be done to dress up the station’s front side. Abramson said overtures to NJ Transit have proven frustrating.
Toshiba Foster, the council president, inquired about a rooftop restaurant for the proposed project.
“It’s not in the cards on this one,” Marchetto said, citing technical obstacles. “But I’ll keep that in mind.”