Developers must be creative to wedge projects into downtown Morristown, where space is at a premium and topography is challenging.
For the company proposing Schuyler Lofts, the question isn’t so much whether 28 apartments can be squeezed between Schuyler Place and Bank Street. It’s whether tenants will be able to access them safely once they are built.
Zoning board members on Wednesday questioned representatives of Claremont Properties, the developer from Far Hills, about a driveway on Bank Street that would provide sole vehicular access to the complex.
The two-way driveway would be shared with the Ann / Bank Street Garage and a fitness center. It must accommodate two-way travel, even though it’s too narrow for two vehicles to pass each other at the same time.
Officials are concerned about overlapping lanes, blind- and sharp turns, and above all, safety of pedestrians on Bank Street, said Chris Kok, from the town’s planning firm, Topology.
“They’ll have to do some studies,” Kok said, referring to the developer. “The board is not convinced about the safety of that travel path.”
The apartments’ right to use the driveway also must be clarified. A number of property owners granted easements for its use when the Morristown Parking Authority erected the parking garage in the 1980s, Kok said.
Several variances from zoning requirements are being sought. Zoning calls for street-level commercial space; none is proposed. The five-story height exceeds the allowed maximum by four feet.
The project also exceeds maximum lot coverage, does not meet front setback guidelines, and provides no loading area. Tenants moving in and out would have to park moving vans on Schuyler Place at times designated by the landlord and town.
Parking is another detail being ironed out. Plans call for 19 spaces on site. But zoning calls for 25 more. The Ann / Bank Garage cannot presently accommodate the overflow. For now, Schuyler Lofts would reserve those 25 spaces at the Dalton Garage, a couple of blocks away on Cattano Avenue.
Those slots would move to Ann / Bank as space becomes available, the developer’s traffic consultant told the board, which has held three hearings so far, Kok said. More testimony from traffic and planning experts is scheduled for Dec. 5, 2018.
Situated between the historic Morristown Green and the Morris County courthouse, Schuyler Lofts also would offer an easy walk to the train station.
“It’s great that people want to build high quality units in Morristown,” said zoning board Chairman Michael Schmidt.
Four units must accept low- and moderate income tenants, per the town’s affordable housing formula that stipulates a 15 percent set-aside for new rental projects, Kok said.
At least two of those apartments must be on-site. Claremont could pay another area developer to add the remaining two affordable units elsewhere, Kok said.
Owned by Jim Loughman of the Central Jersey Title Company on Schuyler Place, the property is not in a “blighted” zone earmarked for redevelopment. So it does not qualify for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTs), Kok said.
PILOTs enable some projects to avoid paying school taxes, as an inducement to develop land that otherwise would be costly or difficult to develop. A number of Morristown projects have been granted PILOTs, on the theory that apartments add few children to the Morris School District.
Critics claim public education benefits society and everyone should contribute; PILOTs were raised as an issue in this month’s election for the regional school board.