A large crowd turned out for Monday’s zoning board meeting in Morris Township to get a first look at plans for The Regency, a 119-unit luxury apartment complex proposed for the parking lot of the Madison Hotel, adjacent to NJ Transit’s Convent Station railroad stop.
The L-shaped, four-story structure would cover 2.2 acres of the 7.8-acre site of the hotel and the Red Dog Tavern (formerly Rod’s Restaurant). The Keller family, which owns the hotel, seeks a use variance to allow residential development in the office zone, among other permissions.
Placing apartments near a transit facility is consistent with New Jersey “smart growth” policies that encourage commuting via public transportation, the Kellers contend. The Convent Road project conforms with the Township zoning master plan, and would provide 18 low- and moderate income units, according to the application.
Overview by planner Michael Tobia; video by Lee Goldberg:
Plans call for nine studio apartments, 64 one-bedroom units, 42 two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units. Amenities would include a lounge, game room, business- and fitness centers, and a rooftop terrace.
The longest arm of the L-shaped building would front Old Turnpike Road; the shorter wing would run along the boundary with MetLife to the west.
This portion of the hotel parking lot is an underutilized “land asset that can be put to higher and better use,” project planner Michael Tobia told the board. The nearest residences are 400 feet away, he said.
The hotel, which dates to 1981, has 478 parking stalls, Tobia noted. This would increase to 490 spaces, of which 167–including 137 in a basement garage–would be designated for the apartments, according to Township Planner Paul Phillips.
An apartment complex of this size generally would be expected to provide 224 spaces, Phillips said in a report to the board.
The Kellers are seeking a “bifurcated” (two-part) approval process, dealing first with the use variance, and then with other “bulk variances” pertaining to yard setbacks, height restrictions and parking. Site plan approval also would be sought later.
One resident on Monday questioned this two-pronged approach, suggesting it might downplay potential traffic and parking problems.
Traffic and parking will be addressed in the use variance discussions, replied Martin Newmark, attorney for Timbers Inc., the Kellers’ company.
Zoning board Attorney Richard Oller allowed the two-phase process to continue, at least for now, while acknowledging “many issues the board will have to look at very carefully.” These include the project’s layout and “intense” questions about “cross-over, shared parking,” Oller said.
Neighbors of The Regency who presumably might be affected by spillover parking are the hotel, NJ Transit, MetLife and St. Thomas More Church.
MorristownGreen.com readers raised concerns about increased traffic from pending developments at the former Honeywell headquarters; at the former Colgate Palmolive site, near Mennen Arena; on Punch Bowl Road; and on Mount Kemble Avenue, at the Morristown border.
“It’s way too congested here now,” Carole Baker posted on Morristown Green’s Facebook page.
“It’ll be horrendous after the towns finish all of these new housing development projects. It used to be a nice quiet area to live in but that’s a thing of the past now. Everything seems to be dictated by the love of money and revenues,” Baker wrote.
“They are going to need to build more schools…insane, please stop,” commented Lisa Bataille.
Use variances only may be granted for “special reasons” that are “inherently beneficial” or “promote the general welfare,” Phillips explained in his report.
Applicants also must address any “negative criteria” and prove that a use variance won’t pose a “substantial detriment to the public good” or undermine the municipality’s zoning laws, Phillips pointed out.
Introduction of Regency plans by attorney Martin Newmark; video by Lee Goldberg:
The Regency would amount to about 54 units per acre. Although no residential density limit applies here–because the OL-5 zone does not allow any residential uses–Phillips recommended the Kellers produce density comparisons to other Township housing developments, and to transit projects in other suburban areas.
Phillips’ report also indicates the Kellers have not supplied a requested study of proposed shared parking between the hotel and apartments. If the Kellers eventually seek to subdivide their property, the planner said, they may need another use variance to address the parking arrangement.
A traffic study also should be submitted, the planner said.
The Kellers are due back at the zoning board on Jan. 28, 2019.
Lee Goldberg contributed to this story.