Developer trims proposal for apartments at South and DeHart

Morristown zoning board virtual meeting, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin


A developer has trimmed the size of an apartment project proposed for the corner of South and DeHart streets, and offered to add environmental features and artwork.

Instead of layering four stories and 26 apartments above existing retailers, owner Joseph Milelli now is suggesting three new floors and 22 units. Two of those units would be penthouses on the roof.

Frank Vitolo, attorney for the 23-27 South project, addresses virtual meeting of Morristown’s zoning board, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

The number of affordable units also would be shaved, from four units to three.

Project attorney Frank Vitolo pitched these changes at Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the Morristown zoning board, which only received drafts of the revisions hours earlier.

Vitolo said the changes attempted to satisfy board concerns from prior meetings, and he sought members’ feedback before returning with formalized plans.

Left: Corner of DeHart & South streets, Dec. 2020; right: Proposed apartment/retail complex, before latest revision. Montage by

Ground-level tenants 23 South Boutique, J.C. Reiss Optician, Pure Pita, and the Laboratory Hair Studio, and the Laundromat bar in the basement, still are anticipated to remain at the site.

The project at 23-27 South St. requires variances for density and height among other things. It’s scheduled for another hearing on Feb. 3, 2021.

Draft of proposed revisions to 23-27 South project, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Proposed changes include:

  • A “bump out” to create more sidewalk space.
  • A rain garden along the extended sidewalk, and planters on floors two and four and the roof, to reduce water runoff.
  • Electricity purchased from a wind energy company.
  • Beautification of an alley wall with a mural commissioned by nonprofit Morris Arts, where Vitolo serves as a co-president.

Counting the basement bar, the revised project would be five stories, on a parcel zoned for four, said project Planner Michael Tobia.

Morristown zoning board Planner Greer Patras poses question at virtual meeting, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

With fewer apartments, the project would be required to provide three affordable units instead of four, said Vitolo, citing town zoning. Board Planner Greer Patras questioned that interpretation.

Applicants seeking zoning variances must prove benefits to the community, added board member James Bednarz, who characterized these changes as “baby steps.”

James Bednarz comments, virtually, at Morristown zoning board meeting, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

“But baby steps, when you add them up, equal an adult step,” Vitolo said.

“You don’t want me to start adding up variances, do you?” countered Bednarz, the board’s former chairman.

He voiced concerns that the meeting’s format could be construed as encouraging the developer, compromising the board.

Steve Pylypchuk presides (virtually) over his first meeting as Morristown zoning board chairman, Jan. 13, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Steve Pylypchuk, the new chairman, said he purposely limited members to questions only–no statements–to avoid perceived conflicts.

Wednesday’s 80-minute session marked the first meeting for newly appointed members Anthony Murphy and Oliver Starnes. They replaced Charles Hovis and Chris Hayes, who did not seek reappointment.

Murphy and Starnes said they reviewed recordings of prior meetings to familiarize themselves with the application. Board member Elisabeth Wall recused herself.

During the public portion, caller Kristin Ace requested relocation of a proposed tree planting to a spot with better sunlight. Vitolo promised to meet with the town Shade Tree Commission, which Ace chairs.

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  1. As far back as 1989, a traffic study warned the town that unless a 3 story limit was maintained on South Street, the result would be total gridlock. There were recommendations for a number of fixes to trouble spots. One was the traffic pattern around the Green, another was the intersection of South and Madison Ave and also a number of potential improvements were recommended on Morris Street and elm Street. and other places.
    None of those recommendations were ever implemented and the predictions of traffic jams and resulting problems have come to pass. Instead the Town chose to avoid zoning restrictions by permitting themselves to act as a commission for redevelopment, although Councilpersons and the Mayor are not required to have the qualifications of zoning board members. I do not oppose development but the current level of increased densities are not safe or beneficial for the Town or its residents.
    Have you noticed that the developers and their paid experts do not live in Town

  2. Looks good. Why does an underground basement bar count as a story? So zoning code only allows three stories above the ground in the immediate downtown area? Sounds like the master plan definitely needs an update?