A developer found holiday cheer Thursday at a Morristown redevelopment meeting, where officials and neighbors responded mostly favorably to a new proposal for a four-story, 85-unit “Live-Work” apartment building on Morris Street.
“I like it better than storage,” said Giovanni Robertelli, owner of an adjacent housing development, referring to a 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility that Hampshire Realty scrapped after two years of vociferous local opposition.
“We think this building makes perfect sense for our location and our use,” said Frank Minervini, the new architect for the project.
Hampshire now envisions a U-shaped building designed for work-at-home residents. Apartments would have movable walls, and the ground level would include a communal area for business meetings, as well as a café–probably a satellite of South Street’s SmartWorld Coffee shop, said project attorney Frank Vitolo.
The “LW” apartments, as the project is called now, would include greenery on the roof, solar panels, LED lighting, bike racks and electric car chargers in the 110-space lot that would sit beneath three floors of apartments.
Forty-three of the apartments would be one bedroom and 29 would have two bedrooms. Thirteen units would be set aside for low- and moderate-income tenants. Like all new major developments in Morristown, this one would be required to contribute up to $100,000 towards public art, said town Planner Phil Abramson.
The project’s footprint would cover only about half of the 1.6-acre site at 175 Morris St.; the four-story storage center would have filled nearly the entire lot. That would have included an art studio, no longer in the plans.
Minervini said traffic on busy Morris Street should not be heavily impacted, especially if most of the LW residents work from home.
Video: LW presentation, Dec. 13, 2018, 1 of 2. Video by Kevin Coughlin for MorristownGreen.com:
NEIGHBORS: TWEAK THE AESTHETICS
This conceptual presentation, the first step in the approval process, drew a good-sized crowd. Some residents commended Hampshire for shifting gears; its storage plans had been criticized as out-of-character with the area.
“You’ve come up with something that respects the town and also captures what’s possible for the town going forward,” said South Street resident Tim Reuther.
Others took issue with the LW glass-and-brick design, which Minervini explained as both a nod to the neighborhood’s distant industrial past (grain elevators and sawmills, according to Abramson) and to the town’s future.
“This doesn’t conform to the way Morristown looks,” said Bob Knapik of Washington Avenue.
“If you could make this blend in with the neighborhood, it would be spectacular,” said Kristin Ace of Franklin Corners.
A woman who lives in a 148-year-old house across from the proposed complex lobbied for a “more historical aesthetic.” George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters are just up the street.
The resident also cautioned that narrow sidewalks and poorly functioning traffic signals make for a perilous walk into the downtown.
Asserting that “the architecture doesn’t have to be the same everywhere in town,” Mayor Tim Dougherty expressed confidence that Hampshire will create “an amazing neighborhood.”
He said his office is exploring sidewalk improvements for Morris Street, from Ford Avenue to the NJ Transit train trestle.
The Mayor also hinted that the seven-acre town hall property between South and franklin streets could be transformed into a similarly “amazing neighborhood.” He investigated moving town hall to the vacant Morristown Post Office, he said, but the Postal Service so far has not responded to the town’s $1.5 million offer.
On Thursday, the council also approved plans for 89 apartments behind the Morristown train station.
Video: LW presentation, 2 of 2, Dec. 13, 2018. Video by Kevin Coughlin for MorristownGreen.com:
Environmental work on the Hampshire site, former home to an oil company and auto shop, has included removal of tanks, asbestos and contaminated soil, said Chris Richter, the project’s planner.
Although some low-level groundwater contamination continues to dissipate, “the site is suitable for residential development,” Richter said.
Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the site, said he was pleased by Hampshire’s new direction. Council President Toshiba Foster said she hopes “the developer will take this feedback and come back with some improvements.”
The council serves as Morristown’s redevelopment agency. The property was designated as blighted and needing redevelopment in 2012.
“We’re open to tweaks to make the design fit better with the community,” Vitolo said.