Refining the monolith: Morris Street apartment proposal advances

Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Borrowing elements from other projects in Morristown, the developer of 85 apartments proposed for Morris Street unveiled plans on Thursday intended to allay concerns of residents who deemed the structure too jarring for a neighborhood in the shadow of George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters.

The initial concept aimed to put a retro spin on the neighborhood’s distant industrial past, but struck neighbors as “too modern and harsh,” acknowledged architect Frank Minervini:

Preliminary rendering of apartment complex proposed for 175 Morris St., December 2018.
BEFORE: Initial concept for apartment complex proposed for 175 Morris St., December 2018.

The updated design presented to the Morristown council incorporates more brick façades, reduces some window sizes, offsets red and grey colors, and shifts the four-story section to the western side, adjacent to commercial properties, while places three stories on the eastern portion, abutting a residential development.

“It’s certainly a different building, a different asthetic….instead of one big monolithic building, you look down at smaller pieces,” Minervini said.  The revised proposal looks like this:

Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
REVISED: Updated rendering of proposed ‘Live-Work’ apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine’s Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

It incorporates design aspects of the triangular Fox Rothschild law office at Market and Bank Streets, and an apartment building and Cambria Hotel approved for (but not yet completed) on Market Street, said Frank Vitolo, the Riker Danzig attorney representing Hampshire.

“We are very open to modifying the plan as we go along,” Vitolo said,

The redevelopment project tentatively is titled “The LW,” for Live-Work. Apartments would have movable walls, enabling work-at-home residents to reconfigure rooms for business meetings.

This concept replaced Hampshire Realty’s plans for a 100,000-square-foot self-storage center, scrapped after two years of local opposition.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click /hover over images for captions:

Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Revised rendering of proposed 'Live-Work' apartments on Morris Street, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council members Bob Iannaccone, right, and Stefan Armington at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Resident Mike Kurek asks question at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Town redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino fields question, while town Planner Phil Abramson, town Administrator Jillian Barrick and Mayor Tim Dougherty listen, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
From left, Council members Tefan Armington and David Silva, Mayor Tim Dougherty, and Councilman Bob Iannaccone, at Morristown redevelopment meeting, Valentine's Day 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Gone is a proposed art studio; a ground-floor coffee shop is proposed instead. Thursday’s  revised plans relocate the shop away from the Morris Street entrance. Thirteen apartments would be designated as affordable units. Most of the 111 parking spaces would sit underneath the apartments, and would not be visible from Morris Street, Minervini said.

Residents at the sparsely attended Valentine’s evening meeting reacted mostly favorably.

“I believe the architect listened quite well to a lot of our comments from the first meeting” in December, said Mike Kurek.

Resident Leslie Raff asked if the top level of one wing could be recessed, and if the colors could be enhanced, to further diminish the impression of a massive structure. Another resident, Linda Carrington, requested non-reflective windows, to prevent birds from flying into them.

Non-reflective windows would be used, answered Minervini, who also agreed that the color contrast could be greater. The revised plans were pulled together quickly and are a work-in-progress, he said. Additional tweaks are anticipated at a future meeting.

Former Councilwoman Marge Brady was more critical of the emerging design. Citing planning courses she had taken years ago, she noted stylistic touches in the artist’s renderings that she suggested were tricks of the trade to make the structure appear smaller.

Taking a long view, Brady asserted that architecture is prone to generational fads.

“You have to be careful to choose a style that won’t become laughable in another decade,” she cautioned.

Town officials seemed generally pleased, however.

“I think the concept is brilliant,” said Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who represents the Fourth Ward. “Live-work is cutting edge.”

“I’m happy with this. The residents like it better,” said Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the 175 Morris St. site.

Traffic reports come later in the process. As envisioned now, LW tenants would be prohibited from turning left onto Morris Street.

Iannaccone would like to see Hampshire pursue an agreement with neighboring developments to share an access road to Ford Avenue.

Council President Toshiba Foster, Vice President Hiliari Davis and Councilman Michael Elms did not attend the session.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. These renderings look like the front of the hospital – actually, any hospital. Terrible.

  2. On March 26th, Marge Brady presented the town council with a revised drawing of the project. She turned the building around so that the open courtyard now faces the street. I hope the developer and architect will consider her suggestion.

  3. Jeff and Chris remind me of all those who claimed Headquarters Plaza was the wave of the future for Morristown with an architectural style that was forward looking and beautiful. Today no one remembers that architect and the Town is still attempting to recover from its negative impact it had on all of Speedwell Avenue.
    Many architects want to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright but few succeed and instead their negative impact causes lasting damage to the community and the developer. On the other hand, Willow Hall at 330 Speedwell Ave. was criticized in 1847 for not following the popular colonial style of the time. It still stands as a proud reminder of the lasting beauty of a sustainable building in the proper scale and designed to blend into its setting. Olmstead buildings remain functional and beautiful everywhere, including Washington, DC. The buildings recently proposed are fad architecture with no indication that they will not be difficult to maintain and deteriorate in the near future.

  4. I agree with Chis. It seems there are still people who want new development to look like George Washington designed and built it. We’re out of the colonial era. I love the new stuff they are building.
    Downtown, though, I think the Metropolitan/40 Park complex should have been built farther from the core, and high rise office buildings built there. It’s great that there are lots of bars and restaurants downtown, but it would be prudent to attract more of a corporate presence.

  5. The appearance of the first design was so much better than the new one. Why are people afraid of modern architecture? Every great city has it.

  6. The town developed design guidelines (available on the town website) but the redevelopment zones ignore them. The Morris Street design references the Fox Rothschild building on Market Street, another redevelopment zone.

  7. I’m more than a little concerned that three members of the Morristown Council missed this presentation but, then again, so did I. From what I can see here—excellent coverage, Kevin—the proposal is a vast improvement over the storage facility that preceded it. Just the same, the scale of the project raises questions as does the lack of imagination in the design. Surely an effort to complement the residential housing in the area would help the area absorb the impact. Jon Hansen does know how to fit buildings into spaces (see property at Maple and Miller) in a way that contributes to the aesthetic and complements the buildings in the area, an observation that leads me to say he can do better on Morris Street. At the same time, the plans are looking much more appealing.

  8. Favorite trick used in renderings is to place distracting white objects in foreground to make the building appear closer than it is. Note the broad Morris street that does not exist, in front of the building in a manner that makes it appear smaller than it actually is, with no actual dimensions or side and rear views shown. Like most I felt relieved that there is no longer a proposal for a warehouse at that site but does a Fox-Rothchild style building really fit this historic neighborhood and street that takes you from Washington’s headquarters , past the railroad station and on to the Green.. NJ planning permits encouraging development to enhance its historic communities, not cookie cutter copies of the latest trend. If you look at Morristown’s historic buildings you may notice the great variation in style. Then look at headquarters Plaza, the Twon’s experiment in creating a new style for Morristown.

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