A developer is suing Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty for allegedly trash-talking the company and killing its proposal to bring the New Jersey corporate headquarters of Big Four accounting firm Deloitte to South Street.
Dougherty on Wednesday described the civil suit as “frivolous and inaccurate,” and called the Silverman Group a “bully developer” trying to pressure officials to approve a project that would destroy the character of the downtown.
According to the suit, the Silverman Group of Basking Ridge had a deal last year with Deloitte and realty broker Cushman & Wakefield to erect a 110,000-square-foot office building for Deloitte, with a parking facility to be built by the Morristown Parking Authority, at 54-74 South St., properties owned by Silverman.
The site sits across the street from the Presbyterian Parish House, with 13 storefronts, that include J&K Steakhouse, the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company and Smartworld Coffee.
Everything unraveled, the suit contends, when Dougherty opposed that location and instead pressed for Speedwell Avenue, near Headquarters Plaza, an area zoned for five-story buildings.
At a July 2018 meeting with representatives of Deloitte and Cushman & Wakefield, the mayor indicated with “vulgar and inappropriate language” that he would prevent the project from going forward on South Street, according to the suit.
Dougherty allegedly also advised participants to use caution when dealing with the Silverman Group because it was “dishonest and not trustworthy.” As a result, Deloitte walked away from the deal, and from Morristown, say the legal papers filed in Superior Court last month by Newark-based lawyer Joseph Fiorenzo.
The suit seeks a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages and legal costs from the mayor and the town.
In a statement to MorristownGreen.com, Dougherty said the town would be honored to welcome a firm of Deloitte’s caliber, and added that his administration eagerly awaits the outcome of Deloitte’s selection process.
But Dougherty said his first priority as mayor “is and always will be preserving the heart and soul of our great town. I make no apologies for insisting that development, whatever it is, be appropriate for its location.
“The past decade has seen unprecedented reinvestment in Morristown. We remain open for business and will continue to pursue opportunities that create value – including Deloitte’s continued interest in our town. Morristown cherishes all of its neighborhoods and remains committed to protecting them from intrusive, overly intensive development. These ideals are embodied in our zoning code, which it is my duty to enforce,” the statement continued.
Dougherty said the Silverman Group’s proposal “to wedge a 110,000 square foot building atop 13 active storefronts remains highly speculative and is rife with practical challenges. Beyond that, the scale of their proposal has the potential to erode the very character of an area that has made Morristown so desirable.”
Rather than appealing to the zoning board, the developer chose to file “a frivolous lawsuit in an effort to bully local officials. Such heavy handed tactics by a litigious developer will not be tolerated,” Dougherty said.
On Friday, Dougherty and town Administrator Jillian Barrick are scheduled to accompany a Deloitte managing partner in Morristown at the firm’s “Impact Day,” an event dedicated to community volunteerism, the mayor said.
“I will ask him if the town scared them away,” Dougherty told Morristown Green.
NEW PLAN PITCHED FOR SOUTH STREET
In April, the Silverman Group submitted preliminary plans for a new project at the South Street location.
This proposal would add two stories above the storefronts, adding 96,000 square feet of office space. A 290-space mechanical parking deck would go behind the building, where customers and employees of the storefronts presently park.
Town officials have requested technical information about this project’s footprint, to determine whether the application belongs before the planning board, or requires use variances from the zoning board.
The family-owned Silverman Group owns and manages more than 16 million square feet of office, retail, industrial and aviation properties, and owns another 3,000 multi-family units across the country, according to its lawsuit.
In 2014, after lengthy hearings that were attended by company principal Blake Silverman, the zoning board shot down the Silverman Group’s proposal to build a daycare center on Turtle Road. The developer proceeded instead with Turtle Road Commons, a luxury apartment complex.
For Dougherty, meanwhile, this is the second lawsuit naming him as a defendant this year. Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh in April accused the mayor and the town of harming his business by imposing curfews and denying a liquor license expansion. An attorney for the town termed those charges “wholly without merit.”
Cavanaugh also is suing the Morristown Parking Authority in a dispute over access to an alley behind his Iron Bar and Revolution nightspots. And a police captain is suing the town over fallout from last year’s whistleblowing trial involving the former police chief.