Much of the public debate over Schuyler Lofts— a proposed five-story, 28-unit apartment project seeking variances from the Morristown zoning board tonight, Dec. 4, 2019 — has focused on a transfer of affordable housing units to a new group home in the heart of the town’s Historic District.
But the town’s Historic Preservation Commission says the zoning board should kill the project for other reasons.
Schuyler Lofts “gnaws away at the Town’s truly pedestrian-friendly and human scale,” ignores core tenets of the zoning master plan, and continues a four-decade trend of town approvals “enabling large projects (that) have significantly degraded the Town’s historic fabric.”
That’s according to a pull-no-punches report submitted to the board over the weekend by Kenneth Miller, chairman of the advisory commission.
The apartment plans fail to reflect the character of the nearby Historic District and the Morris County Courthouse, which dates to the early 19th century. Worse, the commission contends, the project will encourage similar indifference by the county when it builds a courthouse expansion on Schuyler Place.
The commission has four specific beefs with the apartments:
Height: “Its height and design do not respect the historic centrality of the courthouse building.”
First-floor apartments: They will kill an “opportunity to introduce more retail life to Schuyler Place” and reject “the Town’s Master Plan goal of introducing walkable, pedestrian-friendly street fronts. The first floor facing Schuyler Place should not include residential units.”
Too many mullions: “The proposed project is of industrial/loft style design, and the hallmark of this style is simplicity and repetition. The project’s fenestration should follow that plan with a more consistent, simple window pattern.”
Faux clapboard siding: This suggests low-income housing from more than a century ago. “The Commission strongly suggests using brick or at worst stucco siding on the non-street facing elevations.”
More broadly, the commission charges that zoning changes and decisions since the Headquarters Plaza urban renewal project of the early 1980s “have ignored the character of our downtown historic district and degraded its integrity and historic value.”
The present master plan emphasizes maintaining human scale and walkability. But the commission–whose volunteer members are appointed by Mayor Tim Dougherty–don’t see the town holding developers to those goals.
“In a town supposedly defined by its contribution to 18th century history, we no longer respect even the 19th-century phase of our development. Recent projects have resulted in many repetitive, similarly designed structures which have eliminated unique, detailed buildings that had set Morristown’s character,” the report says.
“These mid to-late 19th- -and early 20th-century buildings have historic importance, reflecting our past not just in architecture but in our Town’s social culture. They also provide reasonable-cost retail and moderate- income housing, both of which are being eliminated in the interests not of the Town and its residents but of largely non-resident developers and corporations.”
Preserving the historic flavor of the courthouse area is a vital last-stand, a chance to demonstrate how to integrate future county buildings into this historic setting, the report argues.
“Although they are post-Revolutionary, the courthouse and the short string of low buildings on Washington Street between Bank and Court Streets are the most historically significant structures still within our historic district. Yet the Claremont Board of Adjustment hearings have been notable for their lack of mention of this important fact: The courthouse area is all that is left of our historic business district.”
The proposed Claremont project, conclude the commissioners, “misses the opportunity to reflect the goals presented in the Town’s Master Plan. The Commission recommends denial of the application as presented.”