Morristown council relents on neighborhood parking permits, moves to ban attic- and basement bedrooms, rejects Frog expansion

The Morristown mayor and council received this Billy Tucci original illustration on Tuesday. You can get one, too, from the PBA at this weekend's Garden State Comic Fest.
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Sometimes, you can fight town hall.

Residents howled after the Morristown council unanimously voted last year to reduce the number of parking permits and guest permits for residents in neighborhoods with street parking restrictions.

On Tuesday, the council reversed itself, introducing a measure to restore the number of free permits and do away with paid, single-use guest tags.

“Government is not supposed to stay stuck in something that doesn’t work,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said.

Jessica Halterman of Franklin Street tells council that town hall parking lot lights are keeping her awake at night, June 25, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The unanimous vote came on a busy night that also saw the council introduce an ordinance regulating additions of bedrooms and kitchens to residential basements and attics, a move officials said was meant to crack down on absentee landlords converting single-family homes into multi-unit rentals.

If that ordinance is adopted next month, any homeowner wishing to add an attic- or basement bedroom will have to show that he or she has an additional parking space–or seek a variance from the zoning board, where neighbors will be invited to comment. That’s on top of existing safety regulations.

Violations could bring 90 days of jail time, and fines of up to $1,500–per day.

The council also unanimously spiked a request by the Famished Frog to expand the liquor license of its Washington Street restaurant. Councilman Stefan Armington said the application was so vague that council members could not discern what the restaurant intended to do.

Afterward, Frog owner Jim Finnegan told MorristownGreen.com he merely seeks permission to serve alcohol at 10 tables on an existing patio behind the restaurant, which just renewed its lease with owner Larry Berger for 20 years.  Finnegan said he will return  with a more detailed application.

Back to the parking permits:

Under the revised parking ordinance, up for adoption on July 16, 2019, each dwelling unit in affected neighborhoods would receive up to three permanent stickers for street parking, and up to four re-usuable visitor hang-tags, to avoid $47 tickets for guests exceeding two-hour limits or parking overnight.

These laminated hang-tags will be harder to counterfeit than the prior yellow cardboard ones, the mayor said.

Until last December, residents in these neighborhoods were issued up to six parking decals and three visitor passes. Concerned that people were abusing the system, the council reduced these numbers to three permanent decals and one guest pass, with the option to buy $5 packs of scratch-off overnight passes, a system used in Montclair and East Orange.

The rollout earlier this year was bumpy, however. Residents complained it was inconvenient or impossible to purchase temporary parking passes for guests who arrived unexpectedly on evenings or weekends.

And residents unaware of the changes started showing up in municipal court to contest tickets received for parking in front of their homes.

SEA OF BLUE

Police transformed the council chambers to a sea of blue for the swearing-in of two officers, Joseph Ferris and John Lombardi. 

Police Officer Joseph Ferris is sworn in by town Attorney Vij Pawar; Ferris’ sister, Morris Plains Police Officer Anne Marie Ferris, holds the Bible, as town Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. looks on, June 25, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Ferris played tennis at Newton High School, studied criminal justice at Centenary University, and worked as a Morris County 911 dispatcher.

His father and grandfather are retired Newark cops; his sister, Anne Marrie Ferris, who held the Bible during the ceremony, is a Morris Plains police officer. Their brother is training to become a firefighter.

Lombardi, who played on Morristown High School’s 2006 state championship baseball team, also hails from a law enforcement family. His father is a retired captain from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and his stepdad is a retired New Jersey State Trooper. His brother is a State Trooper, too.

Police Officer John Lombardi is sworn in by town Attorney Vij Pawar; Lombardi’s wife Brianna holds the Bible, as Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson looks on, June 25, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Lombardi’s wife Brianna, who is expecting the couple’s first child in September, held the Bible as town Attorney Vij Pawar administered the oath of office.

Police also presented the mayor and council with a Captain America illustration. Artist Billy Tucci created it for the Morristown PBA, which will give away copies this weekend at the Garden State Comic Fest at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.

These giveaways, which go back a few years, have proven an effective way “to humanize the badge,” said police Lt. Michael Molnar, who was joined at the council meeting by festival promoters David O’Hare and Sal Zurzolo.

Comic book conventions are “a different crowd altogether. They don’t expect to see us. And then it’s, ‘Let’s have a conversation,'” explained Molnar, a comic book fan who became friends with Tucci, a fellow military veteran.

Police Lt. Michael Molnar, center, flanked by Garden State Comic Fest promoters David O’Hare and Sol Zarzulo, June 25, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

If you want to be a cop, the Civil Service will be announcing exams on July 1, said Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr., promising more details soon.

Rounding out the police theme, the mayor gave a proclamation to the Morris County Sheriff’s Office for its Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative, a program that has enlisted police in Morristown and elsewhere to help substance abusers find treatment.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of” the opioid crisis, said Sheriff’s Corporal Erica Valvano.

STREET LIGHTS, PARKING HOGS, AIRBNB…AND A BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS?

The council got an earful from Franklin Street residents, who said lighting installed about a month ago to improve security in the town hall parking lot is blinding them at night, and from Hill Street residents, who complained their street parking is being hogged by apartment dwellers who refuse to pay for on-site parking, and by train commuters and  restaurant workers and patrons.

Homeowners proposed nonresident parking restrictions, like those in the mayor’s Wetmore Avenue neighborhood, among other solutions.

And Linda Carrington, a resident of the Historic District, continued her 2016 campaign to press local officials to regulate and tax Airbnb home rentals to tourists.

The mayor said a meeting with Airbnb is imminent, and he pledged to get the parking lot lighting fixed. Zoning officials, meanwhile, are investigating how many tenants near Hill Street are avoiding their on-site parking lots. Some apartment buildings are charging tenants up to $250 a month to park, according to the mayor.

“That’s outrageous,” he said.

An environmental ordinance to ban the sale of plastic bags also may be coming, Dougherty told the council.

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