Morris Township Committeeman Mark Gyorfy called it a welcome alternative to New Jersey’s not-so-proud tradition of “blacktop and strip malls.”
His colleagues agreed, voting unanimously on Wednesday for an ordinance designed to give a pandemic boost to the stalled retail portion of the Colgate/Mennen redevelopment on East Hanover Avenue across from ShopRite.
Lennar Homes already is selling townhomes on the former corporate site, as authorized in 2017 by a prior set of committee members. But e-commerce and the pandemic have kept the project’s commercial side from proceeding, according to Township Planner Paul Phillips.
So the committee, led by Mayor Cathy Wilson, Deputy Mayor Jeff Grayzel and Gyorfy, negotiated changes to make the “Marketplace” mall more competitive while yielding amenities to make the project appealing to residents, Phillips said.
“We worked on making this more walkable and pedestrian friendly,” said Grayzel. Noting the Township has few “destinations,” he expressed hopes the Marketplace will become a hub “where people can feel they are part of a bigger community.”
While the planning board must iron out details, the amended redevelopment plan suggests a pocket park, a pair of outdoor plazas with water features, a small performance stage and a recreational field.
Also anticipated: Electric vehicle charging stations, which Gyorfy hopes will attract upscale shoppers. Retail stores can be spaced more closely, and three fast-food drive-throughs will be allowed, instead of one as previously permitted.
More uses are possible now, too: Health and wellness businesses, instructional schools and studios, and pet care and grooming salons are welcome, Phillips explained.
Don’t be surprised if tenants include the likes of Lidl, the German grocery chain; Orangetheory Fitness gyms; Jersey Mike’s Subs; and Panera Bread, displaced this year from Morristown, said Grayzel, who spearheaded the Marketplace effort with Gyorfy.
“I think this is a good step forward,” said Wilson, who organized a public session last month to promote the revised plans.
The mayor, Grayzel and Gyorfy were socially distanced in the municipal committee room for Wednesday’s meeting, which was beamed to the public via Zoom. Committeemen John Arvanites and Peter Mancuso, the lone GOP holdover from the 2017 vote, participated remotely.
Few residents commented on the project. More spoke about redevelopment plans for the historic Abbey. The committee has scheduled a Sept. 26, 2020, vote on Restoration Hardware’s pitch to transform the Gilded Age mansion into furniture showrooms, with a restaurant.
One resident asked if the Township could buy tracts such as Colgate /Mennen for conversion to parks. Grayzel said the price would be prohibitive.
In other business, Wilson announced she will host a Sept. 27 webcast addressing suicide prevention, for Suicide Prevention Month. It’s personal for the mayor, who said she has lost two people to suicide.
Wednesday’s meeting started with a video memorial for 9/11 victims.