Morris Township officials okay $38.3M budget, and reschedule Abbey redevelopment hearing

This rear area of the Abbey would be removed in the redevelopment plan proposed by Restoration Hardware.
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By Marion Filler

Morris Township’s governing body adopted a $38.3 million budget, and approved a plan pushed back a hearing to transform the historic Abbey into an RH furniture showroom, via teleconference this week.

Passed by a 4-1 vote, the budget will maintain services without increasing property taxes, according to auditor David Gannon. Projects will be funded as planned, and debt will continue to be reduced.

Despite the rosy picture, Gannon acknowledged “significant unknowns going through 2020 and 2021” may include delays and reductions in state aid and increased costs.

Still, Gannon said, “the Budget has been structured in such a way over a number of years that it puts the Township in a position to weather uncertainties.”

That structuring was opposed by Committeeman John Arvanites, an accountant who cast the lone vote against the spending plan.

He argued that the Township consistently has overestimated expenses and artificially created a surplus to save for a rainy day. He offered numbers and statistics to prove his point.

“Budgeting to create a surplus is wrong,” Arvanites said. Instead of stockpiling the funds, “we should give our residents something back by lowering taxes.”

Using his parents as an example of long-time residents who were forced to leave the Township because of high taxes, he said “I never want that to happen again.”

Without discussion, the Committee unanimously adopted a proposal to motion to reschedule a public hearing on plans to convert the historic mansion and surrounding property at 355 Madison Ave. to a Restoration Hardware showroom, wine bar, and upscale restaurant, while preserving the building’s exterior.

A hearing scheduled for April 29 has been pushed to June 3 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused public meetings to be conducted over the internet.

The special hearing is intended as a forum for the public to ask questions and discuss the project at length.

Mayor Cathy Wilson strongly emphasized the Township’s commitment to accommodate live participation by residents, saying the meeting will be rescheduled again, if necessary, to enable public discussion.

“We thoroughly understand how important this is to our community and how difficult it would be to hold a public meeting under remote conditions. It is our strong desire that we push off the special meeting until such time as we can hold it in person,” she said.

“If by June 3 we are still not able to hold it in person, we will entertain a motion to push it further.”

In the meantime, Deputy Mayor Jeff Grayzel suggested residents see the Township website for detailed information about the redevelopment project.  Earlier this month, the planning board determined that the plan complies with the Township’s zoning master plan.

Next, the planning board must review the site plan, a process that Wilson anticipates will take several meetings.

Wednesday Committee meeting came a close with a lengthy call-in from Jeff Miller, a frustrated resident of Mill Road. He complained about violations of environmental regulations affecting his property during the Mill Road Bridge project.

Miller said he is having a problem with odorous, contaminated soil along his street, and public urination by workmen. He claimed to have been shunted about by Morris County and municipal officials who deny authority to resolve the situation.

Promising to follow up,  Wilson moved on to the next caller who, luckily for Miller, happened to be Morris County Freeholder Stephen Shaw. He promised to take up the matter with the county Department of Public Works to see what could be done.

CORRECTION: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated the Township Committee approved the Abbey proposal. That ordinance must have a public hearing first. MorristownGreen.com regrets the error.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Assuming all due diligence steps (financial, environment, market and prospects) have been completed successfully, I’d urge expediting projects such as this so that we don’t have to compete with everyone else in the country for infrastructure material, equipment and labor after the shut down is relaxed.

  2. Any project that involves infrastructure development should fast tracked right away. Once the Covid-19 related shut down is relaxed there will be likely a significant pent up demand on infrastructure equipment, materials and skilled labor and we will have to compete with everyone else in the country…meaning higher costs. Therefore I’d urge speeding this up (as well as the M Station type of projects) – ASSUMING all proper due diligence has been completed

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