By Marion Filler
If innovative presentations could sway a planning board, the 3D animation for the proposed apartment complex at 126-136 South Street next to the Vail Mansion in Morristown should have been a slam dunk on Thursday.
After a lengthy pitch by project architect Robert Cogan that also included several new renderings, planning board members and Mayor Tim Dougherty indicated that existing plans are far from a done deal.
South Street Morristown Holdings LLC seeks approvals for a four-story, L-shaped, 39-apartment building, with retail, next to the historic Vail Mansion.
Video: Architect Robert Cogan’s animation of apartments/retail proposed next to the Vail Mansion. Screen capture by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Project attorney Frank Vitolo prefaced Cogan’s testimony by informing the board that as of last week, a discussion with Vail Mansion residents had eased concerns about the architecture.
“So Frank,” said Mayor Dougherty, “does that mean I shouldn’t make comments about the architecture?”
“We know you’re going to make comments about the architecture, Mr. Mayor,” said Vitolo, who appears frequently before the board.
Vitolo may have been thinking of Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the most significant architects of the twentieth century, who summed it up for all time when he said: “God is in the details.”
Cogan described the design as “soft modern,” citing three shades of brick, double-height boxed bay windows, and cast stone elements.
“Much of this was in direct dialog with the Vail Mansion people who made reference to the townhomes on Maple and Miller. We borrowed some of the colors of the brick from there and some of the cast stone elements in horizontal banding and window heads.”
He emphasized the previous removal of a 25-by-44 foot, two-story mass of units from the rear left of the building, reducing the overall length of the structure by 25 feet.
The 165-foot expanse facing the Vail oval has been re-imagined in three colors of brick to make the façade “more familiar and friendly.”
Another revision is a 10-foot setback of third floor rooftop units on the back and side of the building.
Cogan was particularly proud of the near invisibility of the mechanical components on the flat roof of the project. They are set back in such a way that “the closer you get to the building when in the Vail oval or in the driveway, that 4th floor disappears. You will feel like you’re next to a three-story building.”
A simulation of the view from end units in the Vail Mansion was intended to assuage objections from unhappy residents.
Video 2: The animated ‘flyover’ continues. Screen capture by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Board Planner Greer Patras commented on the need for landscaping on the large rear deck that directly faces the Vail Mansion, and observed that the plantings in the simulation are a projection of five year growth–implying that Vail residents will not see the benefits for some time.
She requested clarification about the height measurement of the new construction compared to that of the Vail Mansion, as well as other buildings in the area. Patras also asked for samples of the suggested brick colors, particularly the rose tone variety, and noted that the variation in cast stone cornice designs was somewhat fussy.
Mayor Dougherty wanted more information on fiber concrete board and where it can be seen locally. He commented on the disparity between the detail on the elevation facing the Vail oval and other elevations that are less articulated. He also noted potential problems with trash removal from the trash room along an exterior walkway.
At the very last moment, board Chairman Joe Stanley opened a potential can of worms by asking if any consideration had been given to integrating the former Susi’s Salon into the plan. The developers have pledged to preserve that structure, which has a long, rich history.
“The floor heights are different, we can’t connect through to it, it’s functionally different,” replied Cogan. He said the existing canopy could warrant further investigation.
Everyone agreed many more questions must be addressed. Architect Cogan will return on July 22, 2021, for another session.