By Marion Filler
In one of the shortest Morristown planning board meetings in memory, the M Station office project came a giant step closer to reality on Thursday.
The redevelopment of Morris and Spring streets has been two years in the making. After five prior meetings and extensive review, the site plan for replacing the Midtown Shopping Center with two office buildings and a traffic roundabout received unanimous approval in just 18 minutes.
Chairman Joseph Stanley began the Zoom session by thanking board members. “We did our due diligence,” he said, adding “we tried to do the best thing for the town. This application is very important, it’s something that people are going to be looking at for decades to come, so we want to make sure that we did it properly.”
“I would point out that this is a 40-page resolution with five conditions of approval,” said Planning Board Attorney John Inglesino.
“The conditions were circulated to the Board early this week. I want to thank the members who took the time to read these conditions and provide us with feedback and input and thoughts that were really helpful.”
When the document is presented to the Town Council, Inglesino said there will be some “fine tuning, grammatical issues, and further clarifications,” but really not much more.
Stanley, Martha Ballard, Hector Cardona, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Debra Gottsleben, Joseph Kane and Richard Tighe all approved the resolution. Stefan Armington and Susan Glover were absent.
Tighe asserted that a new roundabout in Trenton is “working marvelously.” Since the old circle was replaced, accidents have decreased to almost zero, he said, citing his son, who is a councilman there. “People love it, “said Tighe
Mayor Dougherty wanted to make sure the resolution is posted online, so the public is aware of all the work that has gone into it.
“Our planners and engineers, we looked under every corner and every rock and put together a package that will hold this developer accountable to do the right thing,” he said.
At packed council hearings last year, fans of restaurants and shops in the Midtown strip mall argued that M Station would worsen traffic and hasten gentrification. At virtual planning board meetings during the pandemic, a few M Station opponents questioned the need for office space, as work-from-home becomes the new normal.
But the only comment from the public on Thursday came from Doug Greenberger, a staunch proponent of M Station whose family has had business interests in Morristown for five generations.
He thanked the board for “broadly and deeply questioning” the designers of M Station, which “assures the greatest level of success on all levels of the project.”
One key issue remaining for the council may involve whether to grant the developers a tax break known as a PILOT, short for Payments in Lieu of Taxes. PILOTs are controversial because they eliminate taxes paid to local schools. M Station’s team has indicated it may need a PILOT to secure financing for the roundabout and other off-site improvements.
The council’s next redevelopment meeting is scheduled for July 9, 2020, at 7 pm.
Chairman Stanley closed by addressing his fellow members, all of whom are volunteers, with a final pat on the back.
“This was not an easy one, you really dug in, you did your homework, you paid attention, you asked the right questions and there is no doubt that what we ended up with is a much better product than what we started with,” Stanley said.