Morristown Councilman David Silva tapped his ministerial skills at Thursday’s special council meeting.
Have a little faith, the pastor of the Centro Biblical church urged skeptical residents moments before he joined a 6-0 vote approving the M Station office/retail project.
“I will say, trust this is a good vision here. It doesn’t mean that it’s not risky. Yes, we have risks. But everything in life has a risk. We have to risk to move forward,” said Silva, whose words packed extra punch because he seldom speaks at length during meetings.
Several residents had reiterated concerns about gentrification, the probable loss of affordable eateries, and increased traffic from the project.
M Station seeks to replace 11 businesses in the Midtown Shopping Center strip mall with nearly 400,000 square feet of office and retail space, a five-level parking deck, two plazas, a tree-lined promenade, and a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Spring and Morris Streets.
Echoing town Planner Phil Abramson, Silva said the project is well researched and should bring jobs and corporate philanthropy. The Colombian immigrant added he has navigated many roundabouts in Central- and South America, “and they work.”
Thursday was the second reading of a Sept. 25 amendment to the town’s 2008 redevelopment designation of the property. Among other things, the amendment enables a proposed building to rise seven stories, exceeding a six-story limit. A second structure would stand at six stories.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb was absent Thursday, and Council Members Hiliari Davis and Michael Elms phoned in their votes. M Station landed another key approval on Wednesday, when the planning board made a near-unanimous finding that the project does not conflict with goals of the 2014 town-wide zoning master plan.
A redevelopment agreement, outlining deadlines and obligations, still must be hammered out by the council and developers SJP Properties and Scotto Properties.
And the planning board will scrutinize technical details in a site plan review that’s expected to include another traffic study and a closer look at the roundabout.
Changes are possible during those proceedings; council members encouraged residents to stay involved.
“We’ll just let the dice roll, and keep working with the planning board and you all as the process plays out, and make sure that this is going to be a public benefit, and a benefit for all the residents in the town of Morristown and the businesses as well,” said Council President Toshiba Foster.
The developers remain open to ideas, and are hopeful construction can start next spring, said their lawyer, Frank Vitolo.
“This was a very well thought-out process,” Vitolo said of public meetings that began in June. “The council, the public, everyone had a part in making this (proposal) better, and for that we’re appreciative. We will continue to work with the council and the public to keep making it better.”
M Station should generate around $1 million in annual taxes, and a $950,000 contribution to the town’s affordable housing fund, according to Abramson, the planner.
“I feel this is heartless for the poor people,” countered resident Kadija Gaylord, who does not want to lose the Burger King and 7-Eleven in the strip mall.
Stephen Zaklukiewicz, another resident, insisted the town has overlooked combined traffic from new housing coming in Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.
“Everybody here agrees, this is a monumental project,” he said of M Station. “It will affect every single neighborhood in Morristown.”
Michael Dey, who stands to lose his Fatty’s sub shop to the roundabout, got a smattering of applause when he re-stated his support for the project, urging residents to replace emotion with logic, in the name of progress.
“I think one of the sickest games that life plays on us is that we’re forced to live it forwards, but only understand it backwards,” Dey said.
Margret Brady, a former councilwoman advocating further refinement of the plans, garnered cheers with a proverb:
“He who only looks back has
one blind eye. But he who only looks forward has two blind eyes.”