Asking for public’s trust, Morristown council approves M Station project

Councilman David Silva, left, expresses support for the M Station project; Redevelopment Council John Inglesino listens, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

Rendering of M Station, courtesy of SJP Properties.

“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.

Watch our video of the meeting

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.

M Station critic Lindsay Holleran talks with town Planner Phil Abramson, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Audience listens to council prepare to approve M Station project, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

‘LET THE DICE ROLL’: Council President Toshiba Foster weighs in on M Station, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone, right, suggests an idea for M Station’s commercial space; Councilman Stefan Armington listens, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Councilman Robert Iannaccone suggested modeling ground-floor commercial space after the Milwaukee Public Market and The Grove, Los Angeles, with affordable booths accommodating multiple vendors.

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.”

Morristown resident Kadija Gaylord expresses opposition to the M Station project, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Michael Dey, owner of Fatty’s, said he supports M Station even though it would demolish the restaurant he opened almost seven years ago. Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

Former Councilwoman Margret Brady shows sheet with her ideas to improve M Station project, Oct. 10. 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.”

 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. lol @ E

    go ahead and start your petition. If you look at simple supply and demand in Morristown, you will see that people like the development, bars, food, nightlife, and energy. If not, how do you explain the town becoming more and more popular as more and more development happened?

    Charles, Margret, Callie – feel free to answer the above as well.

  2. @ Callie G, where is Fattys being relocated to?

    You must know something about my business that I don’t.

    Are you the person that I spoke to briefly in the back of the room at this last meeting right after I got up there?

    Just so everybody knows, there has been a conversation between the landlord and myself about possible relocation. No promises were made, and nothing specific was spelled out for several reasons. First, the construction timetables have not been set. Planning board still hasn’t approved M Station and a redevelopment agreement has not been drafted. This project can change substantially at any moment. If they don’t know what’s being built and when, it’s impossible to even consider any options.

    Second, they aren’t aware of what my needs are…and whether or not I’m even interested in building Fattys in another location. It’s a very niche business and it can only perform well where it is. I reached out and met with them face to face because I wanted to avoid a situation where I get a letter in the mail and have to pack up in 30 days.

    I was assured that they will communicate with me every step of the way, and they have so far in good faith.

    So knowing this, how can anybody expect them to make all sorts of promises of relocation benefits? It has to be done on a case by case basis because we are all different. When I spoke at the first public hearing, I asked the town council to provide oversight on tenant assistance. Many members of the public mentioned it as well and of course I would be all for it.

    However, the FACT in this whole ordeal is that none of us are entitled to relocation benefits. Our leases are all expiring around the same time. Some already have and are on month-to-month arrangements. In this situation, the landlord is not obligated to continue any sort of relationship with you as a tenant. So if anybody gets anything, it’s a gift.

    Does it suck? Yes. Is it just? No. But we’re all business people and this is what we signed up for. I, personally, would love some assistance because I sunk a lot of $$$ into my space. Several parties representing the landlord and developer said they would help the tenants. I believe they will, because at this point, it would make them all look REALLY bad and I don’t think they want any more negativity. As the things progress, you’ll probably hear more about it.

    I’m oddly in the middle of all this, so if anybody wants to know anything, I’d be glad to shed some light on it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there as you can see.

  3. @Carlos It is not more housing.. It is office

    and @E It is a valuable, underdeveloped plot that will never be properly kept under current circumstances. It is in need of redevelopment to bring more money to the town. The businesses that are there have opportunity to move elsewhere in town

  4. This is such bullshit. A petition should be filed or some sort of formal protest. I think more townees are against this than for this.

    It’s more than just against moving forward or progress but the fact that Morristown already has enough business and apartment complexes that generate plenty of traffic plus revenue. The strip mall has been around for ages and has been extremely successful in that place since it’s been established!

  5. ..and of course he’s all for it, Fattys owner, his business has already been relocated. He didn’t mention that!

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