Morristown’s council on Thursday gave its blessing to a five-story, 89-apartment building proposed for the parking lot behind the Morristown train station.
“I like that project. It’s on the right path,” Council President Toshiba Foster said after the 5-0 vote approving the L-shaped redevelopment. Council members Alison Deeb and Michael Elms were absent.
Residents raised questions about birds flying into the glass design, parking for rail commuters, and fire coverage for residents on the other side of the Morristown Green, away from the lone fire station on Speedwell Avenue.
“I’m worried that there is no equipment on this side of town,” said Kevin McNally, a Franklin Place resident who suggested a fire truck or two could be garaged at police headquarters on South Street.
“I think we have good fire protection,” answered Mayor Tim Dougherty.
All new buildings must have sprinklers and meet strict fire safety codes, he said. And Morristown’s fire house sits in the center of the 2.9-square-mile municipality, with paid firefighters he described as Morris County’s best.
Video: Morristown approves train station apartments, 1 of 2, video by Kevin Coughlin:
Neighboring towns provide mutual coverage, Dougherty added. Five fire houses in Morris Township surround the town–and eventually, he predicted, the municipalities may consider merging firefighting services.
“There’s going to be a time where that’s the way it’s going to go” across the state, he said of merged services.
Bijou Properties of Hoboken has a contract to buy the property behind the train station, just under two acres, from the Morristown Parking Authority and a family owner. The complex should include 4,700-square-feet of ground-level commercial storefronts, 13 affordable units, and 137 submerged parking spaces.
The lot now has 113 parking spaces available to commuters. After construction there will be 161 spaces–but only around 70 of those will be dedicated for rail riders, town Planner Phil Abramson acknowledged under questioning by residents.
“So the Highlands becomes the primary lot for the train station?” asked Councilman Robert Iannaccone, referring to a parking garage across busy Lafayette Avenue, beneath apartments designed as a “transit village.” That’s correct, Abramson said.
The planner said the town hopes an NJ Transit rail platform can be transformed into a walkway across Lafayette for commuters and residents of the new apartments.
Iannaccone also expressed concerns about plans to eliminate a bus stop on Lafayette; the town should promote mass transit, he said. Abramson said that stop gets few riders.
Councilman Stefan Armington wanted to make sure the project contributes one percent of its cost (up to $100,000) for public art, as mandated by a town ordinance.
The town planning board has determined the project is consistent with the municipal zoning master plan.
Next, the developer will present a site plan to the board, and then an agreement will be hammered out to memorialize everything that has been promised so far, said John Inglesino, the town’s redevelopment attorney. Morristown’s council doubles as the town redevelopment agency.
On Thursday the council also heard a pitch for 85 new apartments on Morris Street.
Video: Morristown approves train station apartments, 2 of 2. Video by Kevin Coughlin for MorristownGreen.com: