“Bully” developer accuses Morristown mayor of killing big project; mayor says plan would wreck downtown

Artist's rendering of proposed Silverman Group development above shops on South Street in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Artist's rendering of proposed Silverman Group development above shops on South Street in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
22

 

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.

If you’ve read this far… you clearly value your local news. Now we need your help to keep producing the local coverage you depend on! More people are reading Morristown Green than ever. But costs keep rising. Reporting the news takes time, money and hard work. We do it because we, like you, believe an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy community.

So please, CONTRIBUTE to MG or become a monthly SUBSCRIBER. ADVERTISE on Morristown Green. LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SIGN UP for our newsletter.

[interactive_copyright_notice float='left']
[icopyright_horizontal_toolbar float='right']

22 COMMENTS

  1. @ Matt – yea I wouldn’t mind something like that either.

    Sorry to hear Jim. Not sure why council keeps biting the hand the feeds the town – which is places for happy hours and a nightlife.

    Also – an idea for Deloitte office building may be those lots for sale next to street from new Fox & Rothschild building. Pretty large footprint and can go up 5 stories there with parking beneath.

  2. Well here we go again, this council again, 5th year in a row put the same restrictions on revolution without approval of the State ABC. When asked by our attorney they gave no response. How could they there is no reason. Then in violation of the law went behind closed doors. Back to the State to lift the restrictions. The mayor has them on a string. Hundreds of thousands of wasted taxpayers money.

  3. @Conor if it is something like Shake Shack I would be really happy about it. But definitely bummed about Gran Cantina

  4. I agree this is not the place for the building, but something such as what Prism has planned for the Wells Fargo building would be awesome. Maybe a 5-6 story 60-70k sq ft with a smaller footprint would entice Deloitte. Would really be great to have a larger Deloitte office in town. Plenty of apartments up and planned, next step is to get some larger businesses in so people can walk to work, dinner, happy hour, etc.

    Bummed about Gran Cantina as well. Was looking forward to a Mexican themed restaurant. There is enough burger places already in this corner.

  5. @James Cavanaugh

    super bummed about gran cantina! Was looking forward to it.
    What’s the burger place??

  6. I grew up in Morristown from late 1960s. I miss the small quaint town it once was. I used to work in the downtown when macys was there and palm grilI . now i see all this development and tall buildings and its turning into a mecca yuppie ville with a yuppie price tag.

    Personally I agree with the mayor. I would like to preserve some of the quaint small town feel while still grow and expand.
    Tall monstrosity buildings will take away from what makes the downtown such a pleasure. We do not need to become a mini NYC.

  7. Matt, don’t listen to the crap from Marge Brady, Silverman was a shared parking facility bringing a class A ratable to morristown. The authority was in favor until our mayor put pressure on them. This is no different than the 40 Park de Hart garage joint development. As far as gran Cantina the mayor killed that, now you have a hamburger joint coming in.

  8. As a commissioner of the Parking Authority, I can assure you that the MPA does not build garages for any developer unless there is some public good involved. We’ve supported development as a means of providing tax ratables on what had been tax exempt land, such as the Chancery Square and Epstein projects. We are an entity of the Town of Morristown and always consider the needs of the Town first.
    Silverman’s proposal to have the MPA build him a garage, indicates to me that he is out of touch with reality. Why would the MPA get involved with building him a garage, when they’re first priority is building a garage behind the old Post office building that provides much needed parking for the area, accommodates the Farmer’s market and other public uses without having any negative impact on the area that surrounds it.

  9. @Moira – The Morristown Parking Authority is self funded. They do not use any public funds or taxes to build, operate or maintain their facilities.

    New garages are funded through bonds. No tax payer funds.

    That is one of the advantages of having an authority run a function of your town.

  10. @Jimmy Totally agree. I only live in town- no business- but it is clear as day that this is what the mayor has been doing for quite some time.

    Also- I see work being done on your Gran Cantina space concept. Is that moving forward again?

  11. @Moira – To answer your question….The Morristown Parking Authority takes out bonds to finance new garage projects. No public funds or taxes are ever used, to build it, maintain it or pay on the bond obligation.

    That’s one of the benefits of an authority structure. It costs the taxpayers NOTHING and provides a great service.

  12. When you zone properties and developers or businesses decide to locate in approved areas for such projects you can’t have mayors going around the process. Morristown is run like Tamany Hall, the planning board is being influenced by these actions. Why have these boards if one person is going to dictate policy. This mayors actions are improper and illegal. Let’s have a process and public debate, god knows we don’t need anymore apartments. Office use will revitalize our downtown. I’m sure if you look hard enough you will find the mayor pushing for his friends to benefit from those wanting to relocate to morristown.

  13. @Gerald The comment isn’t silly considering its involving several lawsuits against him from different people

  14. @John No, I totally agree. That structure would look horrible there. I am just referring in the way in which he speaks to developers and business owners. Just look at everything that has happened with Iron Bar owner. It is a disturbing pattern here

  15. Matt S: Not sure how this is about Dougherty’s ego. Like him or not, it’s hard to disagree that a nearly block-long structure would damage the character of one of the town’s key commercial zones. Sure it would be great to have Deloitte based in town, but not at this cost.

  16. You’re surprised the Mayor is fighting for the town? Uh, isn’t that the Mayor’s job? Wouldn’t he always be involved in any “spat’s” regarding development in town? Your comment is silly.

  17. Can someone explain to me how the Morristown Parking Authority has the money to build a parking facility?

  18. The mayor is correct in taking this stand. He is the chief executive and needs to bring this to light for the citizens.
    Either way, it will be part of his legacy.

  19. He may have an ego but I would bet its smaller than silvermans. If you dont stop this crap you will lose the character of your town. Believe it. These developers do not care about that. Bottom line is all they care about. If you want to live like that I feel sorry for ya.
    You cant unbuild a monstrosity like that.

  20. I think this project would be a huge mistake on this part of South Street. It would be really out of character.

    But interesting the mayor is involved in yet another spat. Ego is getting the best of him. Time for some new blood in the mayor’s office.

LEAVE A REPLY