The M Station office/retail redevelopment will be “both functional and beautiful,” project attorney Frank Vitolo told the Morristown planning board on Thursday.
For nearly three hours, architects pitched a “people-centered” design for a “vibrant new destination” in town.
They said elements will include a “green wall” and polyester scrim murals, possibly depicting local historical scenes, on the six-story parking deck.
Two terra-cotta sided office buildings, standing six- and seven stories, will be in slightly different shades of umber, to appear less monolithic.
A terraced plaza will be suitable for concerts and poetry readings, the board was told. Light-colored pavement, new trees near the deck, and plantings in the proposed traffic roundabout should prevent the four-acre site from becoming a “heat island.” Low-reflection windows should prevent birds from killing themselves.
The overall look is informed by George & Martha’s American Grille, across Morris Street, and an apartment building under construction at 45 Market St., according to project architect Peter Wang, a principal of the Gensler firm.
“You’re filling in a piece of land that has meaning and context to it… it forces the architect to respect what is there, what Morristown looks and feels like. You can’t just drop something in like it’s from outer space,” Wang testified.
Slideshow screenshots by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover on images for captions:
Scotto Properties and SJP Properties aim to replace Scotto’s Midtown Shopping Center strip mall at Morris and Spring streets with nearly 400,000 square feet of offices and retail, a parking deck, promenade, plaza and traffic roundabout.
Big Four accounting firm Deloitte has been announced as an anchor tenant.
Approved by the town council last October, M Station needs site plan approval from the planning board.
Thursday’s meeting, conducted via Zoom because of the pandemic, was M Station’s third before the board. An engineer and a traffic consultant testified previously.
When everyone Zooms back on June 11, 2020, Vitolo intends to present details on staging–when each piece will be built, and how those pieces will function as construction unfolds.
A “fly-through” by Gensler Design Director Roger Smith showed board members renderings of M Station as viewed from Morris and Spring streets; Spring Place; the Spring Hills assisted living center behind the site; and from the post office, near the Morristown Green.
Board Chairman Joe Stanley described it as one of the better design presentations he’s seen. Wang insisted the real thing will surpass the drawings.
There were some questions. Board member Dick Tighe asked about lost revenue from metered parking spaces that will be eliminated on Morris Street and Lackawanna Place. Vitolo said he will discuss that next week with the Morristown Parking Authority.
Mayor Tim Dougherty said he’s not convinced that 11-percent reflective windows and dimmed lights at night will avert bird strikes. He also sounded lukewarm about the terra-cotta design, saying he wanted to observe New York offices in that style.
And what happens when the murals’ 10-year warranty expires? inquired board member Debra Gottsleben. Wang said he hoped it would be “a matter of pride” for any future owner to maintain the scrims.
Renderings showed mechanical equipment atop the two buildings shielded from view by boxy structures Wang called penthouses.
“To me, that doesn’t look like a penthouse,” said Board Planner Greer Patras.
Wang said “mechanical penthouse” is an architectural term that differs from the common perception of penthouses.
Despite the architect’s efforts to create texture with cornices, colors and contrasting window patterns, Patras felt the buildings still appeared “flat.” She also contended the bright white parking deck clashed with the rest of the color scheme.
Morristown requires major developments to underwrite public art on their properties. Questioned by Patras, Wang said the murals are meant to “enhance the public experience”; whether they satisfy the developer’s art obligation is to be determined.
“It could if that was a commissioned public art piece,” Wang said.
Project art will be discussed at a future meeting, said Vitolo, the M Station attorney.
Patras also wanted to know if M Station will include “non-binary” (gender-neutral) bathrooms (it won’t), and whether the coronavirus, with its emphasis on social distancing and low-touch fixtures, has prompted any design changes.
“We’re still in the throes of the pandemic… it’s definitely an ongoing dialogue we are having,” Wang said.
A reporter’s questions about Deloitte’s lease status — the firm just announced 5,000 layoffs nationwide–and the viability of office buildings in a COVID-19 world, were not entertained; public questions were limited to specific testimony.
Large audiences brought plenty of questions to last year’s council hearings. Nobody watching from home on Thursday posed any queries to the board.
Responding to board questions from last week’s hearing, Vitolo said the developers have agreed to extend water lines to the roundabout for plantings. They also will monitor on-site air quality during construction, for the benefit of the Spring Hills assisted living center, he said.
In one of the Thursday’s more interesting exchanges, Wang explained why windows represent 45 percent of the two buildings’ facades. Sunlight makes for happier, healthier employees–he claimed hospitals with more sun have better patient outcomes.
Windows also symbolize transparency for companies like Deloitte, he asserted.
“We want you to see us, and we want to see you,” Wang said.
This story has been updated to include additional details about the rooftop penthouses, the developer’s public art obligation, and nationwide layoffs at Deloitte.