Morristown’s council is accustomed to presentations from developers pitching big projects.
But this week, council members heard from one who is threatening to sue because he claims he cannot get an audience.
“We have essentially given up on the town officials. We’re no longer willing to be dillied around with and toyed around with. We drafted up a complaint. We’re now asking the town council to honor this agreement,” said attorney Linda Kahn.
She and Morristown lawyer Philip Rosenbach represent Paul Marshall, a local real estate developer who says he and Claremont Properties of Far Hills have been getting stonewalled since 2015 on their proposal to build a four-story, 83-unit apartment complex and 8,000 square feet of retail space, as part of Morristown’s Speedwell Avenue redevelopment.
The attorneys on Tuesday gave Morristown four months to make good on a January 2015 agreement to review these plans. Otherwise, they intend to sue in federal court for breach of contract.
Town Administrator Jillian Barrick labeled the charges as “clearly just mischaracterizations of the facts and the legal obligations of the town and the agreement.
“Because of this pending litigation, I’ll leave it at that. We have our redevelopment counsel that is reviewing and preparing a response. And once we have an update
for that, we’ll update the council on that,” Barrick said.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb asked to get that briefing at the Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, redevelopment meeting. The council is scheduled to hear updates at 7 o’clock that night about M Station, a major office project separate from the Speedwell project.
Marshall’s proposal was envisioned as Phase III of the Speedwell redevelopment. The first two phases–453 apartments in buildings called Modera 44 and Modera 55–and Phase IV, a CVS pharmacy, have been completed by other developers.
Rosenbach said “hundreds of thousands of dollars” have been spent on “world-class engineers” for Phase III plans that would “enhance and beautify this town” with apartments on about three-quarters of an acre at Speedwell and Clinton Place, near the Modera buildings.
This process began after Marshall granted an easement giving temporary access from his properties on Speedwell Avenue to the Modera site, facilitating that construction, according to Rosenbach.
In exchange, the town and the Morristown Parking Authority signed a January 2015 agreement to “”immediately, continuously, timely without unreasonable delay, diligently work in good faith with our client, to allow our client to submit a plan and get it approved and work with the town council to enter into a redevelopment plan,” Kahn told the council.
But the ink barely was dry, the lawyers allege, when the town began “barraging” Marshall with summonses for maintenance issues they contend were the responsibility of Modera’s developers.
Without consulting with Marshall’s team, the council also scaled back the Phase III redevelopment to allow only 24 units, instead of 150 as initially discussed, his side alleges.
Efforts to secure an official designation as the Phase III redeveloper have proven frustrating, Rosenbach said.
“It has been one niggling cut after another, one rejection after another. And it’s been unending,” he said.
A January 2019 letter outlining these concerns to town officials got no response, according to Rosenbach.
“We would like to know that we have been heard. We would like to know, in fairly short order, that the town is willing to work with us. Because it leaves a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth to say that we have wasted four years for nothing, and to just have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing,” the attorney told the council.
Uncertainty over Phase III has contributed to delays in constructing a park that was promised as part of the Modera projects, according to a measure adopted on Tuesday.
The council authorized paying up to $71,500 to Dewberry Engineers Inc. to create a “usable green space” as an interim park.
Marshall’s company, Marshall & Moran, has developed Morristown properties including the Swiss Chalet bakery and a Remax office. Claremont Properties, meanwhile, is seeking town approvals to erect another apartment complex, on Schuyler Place.