State history panel curbs Normandy sidewalk plans, for now, in Morris Township

'Shadowlawn,' a Colonial Revival mansion, circa 1916, on Normandy Parkway in Morris Township. Courtesy of MorrisTwp.com
10

A controversial repaving project that would add a sidewalk to the historic Normandy Parkway neighborhood has been kicked to the curb, for now, by a state panel.

The Historic Sites Council, which advises the state Department of Environmental Protection, unanimously recommends the DEP temporarily deny the project.

If the DEP assistant commissioner accepts that guidance, Morris Township officials will have 60 days to supply information requested by the council. The DEP then has another 60 days to approve or nix the project, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said on Tuesday.

At an hour-long Zoom hearing last week, the state council heard a pitch from Township Engineer Jim Slate and comments from objectors, including an attorney for a group called “Preserve Historic Normandy.”

The municipality will provide the missing data in hopes of moving the project forward this year, Mayor Mark Gyorfy said on Tuesday. The Township has secured a $339,000 state grant for roadway improvements, and the DEP state Department of Transportation approved the initial design, he said.

“Road projects, such as the Normandy Parkway project, provide the Township with the greatest opportunity to invest in long-term improvements in the most cost-effective manner,” Gyorfy said.

“With the demands of not only today, but tomorrow in mind, the Township has proposed a design that promotes the safety of pedestrians by installing a sidewalk along the roadway, including near Normandy Park School, while also narrowing the driving lanes to slow cars down.”

If the DEP gives its blessing, a sidewalk along Normandy Parkway, between Washington Avenue and Kenilworth Road, near the Morristown border and Friendly’s restaurant, will be extended along Normandy to Columbia Turnpike.

Bike lanes were pared from the plans, Gyorfy noted, in response to feedback from a Township public information session.

But others had more to say at the virtual state hearing.

Normandy Parkway resident Elizabeth Nader expressed concerns about losing trees and a portion of her Belgian block driveway. She called the project “nonsensical.”

“It is one step toward ruining what we think is a jewel of Morris Township,” Nader told the state council last week. “There is nothing to gain from this but everything to lose.”

All but one of 30 residents along Normandy Parkway oppose the plans, according to John Coyle, lawyer for Preserve Historic Normandy. A sidewalk is unnecessary, he told the council, because “this is a street almost entirely devoid of any pedestrian traffic.”

There is ample vehicular traffic, however. The intersection of Normandy and Columbia Turnpike is notorious for accidents.

The idea of adding crosswalks that might encourage schoolchildren to venture across Normandy Parkway is “absolutely terrifying,” said Patricia Sanftner, a Morris Township Historic Preservation Commission member who lives a block from the thoroughfare.

Gyorfy said the Township’s zoning master plan and its transportation advisory committee have called for a sidewalk on Normandy Parkway for “walkability, interconnectedness, and access to Normandy Park School.”

While a half dozen trees near the Normandy/Columbia interchange may be removed for the sidewalk, Gyorfy said trees will be added along Normandy Parkway, and care will be taken to spare the existing canopy from construction damage.

In addition to a new concrete sidewalks, the Township plans repairs to existing sidewalks and curbs, milling and repaving of the roadway, new signs and pavement markings, replacements of some sidewalk- and driveway aprons, and upgrades of sidewalk accessibility ramps to include detectable warning surfaces, according to the DEP.

‘A TREE-LINED BOULEVARD’

Normandy Park dates to 1890, when John Dodd Canfield of the Morristown Land and Improvement Company started designing homes for “affluent people who preferred a neighborhood environment to the isolation of a large estate,” according to the Township’s website.

Movie director Eugene V. Brewster, homeopathic medicine magnate Frederick Humphreys, and suffragist Alison Low Turnbull Hopkins were among early residents.

“The original character of the neighborhood, where houses on large lots were set 200 feet back from a tree-lined boulevard illuminated by gaslights, can still be seen,” the Township site says.

Although no structures would be touched by the proposed project, the landscape of the Normandy Park Historic District would be altered, a state council member noted.

The Council of Historic Sites consists of a dozen gubernatorial appointees who review “public undertakings” that could damage or encroach upon sites on the state Register of Historic Places. Private projects do not fall within the council’s purview.

In its resolution, the council requested more data about auto and pedestrian traffic, and about parking at the nearby Morris Museum and at the nearest trailhead to the Traction Line recreational path.

State council members also want a map showing these destinations in relation to the proposed sidewalk and to trail access points, Hajna said.

And they seek more details about proposed crosswalks, signage and materials, along with documentation of Township discussions with homeowners about these plans. Public comments can be submitted to the DEP here.

If you’ve read this far… you clearly value your local news. Now we need your help to keep producing the local coverage you depend on! More people are reading Morristown Green than ever. But costs keep rising. Reporting the news takes time, money and hard work. We do it because we, like you, believe an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy community.

So please, CONTRIBUTE to MG or become a monthly SUBSCRIBER. ADVERTISE on Morristown Green. LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SIGN UP for our newsletter.

[interactive_copyright_notice float='left']
[icopyright_horizontal_toolbar float='right']

10 COMMENTS

  1. Not to be obvious, but from one who has tried to walk from Morristown proper to the winter farmer market, the reason that the the road is ‘devoid of pedestrian traffic’ is that there isn’t a way for there to BE pedestrian traffic. Open the street to those who like to walk.

  2. Years ago, I did walk my children to Normandy Park School with some other parents. There is one existing crosswalk, which we used, then turned down Normandy Blvd. and we walked through that neighborhood. Adding sidewalks and a crosswalk by the school would make walking to school easier for many more families. As to the comment about no pedestrian traffic on Normandy Parkway, that’s because there are no sidewalks. As someone who walks regularly, I know that it would be very convenient to have a sidewalk here to connect to the museum, the arboretum, etc. The homes on Normandy Parkway, both the historic and the newer ones, are lovely and set back from the road and they would still be that way with sidewalks.

    Kevin, can you please check the link in the article to the DEP website? It didn’t work for me.

  3. Normandy Parkway resident Elizabeth Nader expressed concerns about losing trees and a portion of her Belgian block driveway. She called the project “nonsensical.”

    “It is one step toward ruining what we think is a jewel of Morris Township,” Nader told the state council last week. “There is nothing to gain from this but everything to lose.”

    What?

    What is Elizabeth Nader going to lose here?Why would she be so opposed to other residents walking by her home on a sidewalk that is 100s of yards from her front steps?

    Historic neighborhood? There are sidewalks in many historic neighborhoods. There are historic buildings and neighborhoods all over Morristown and Morris Township and I would bet 95% of them have sidewalks and that those sidewalks have no impact on their historic value or significance.

    Only thing nonsensical here is Nader’s bad attitude and the bad attitude of her 30 friends who oppose allowing people to safely pass their homes on an attractive new sidewalk. If they are so proud of their exclusive historic properties, they should welcome allowing others to enjoy the view.

    Install sidewalks on both sides of Normandy Parkway. I will smile and wave at Elizabeth and her friends as I walk by. Would they smile and wave back at me?

  4. John Coyle, lawyer for Preserve Historic Normandy, says sidewalk is unnecessary, he told the council, because “this is a street almost entirely devoid of any pedestrian traffic.”

    … BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SIDEWALKS!!

  5. Oh, my goodness! If sidewalks are installed on Normandy Parkway, which is definitely a lovely street in Morris Township, featuring at least one home that looks very “Southern plantation-ish,” the value of the homes on that street would probably drop so much that the residents would no longer enjoy the prestige of living there, and they’d probably have to move to McMansions somewhere in the Somerset Hills. As one who lives in a decidedly middle-class neighborhood in Morris Plains and as one who is all in favor of historic preservation, I find the objections to having sidewalks just a bit MUCH! After all, there are way bigger issues to tackle on this planet (and even in Morris Twp.) right now, such as wars, poverty, racism, hunger, dirty politics, and climate change, to name just a few. Please…now I must prepare a mint julep to enjoy as I sit on the deck at the back of my home – note, not on the veranda – while I ponder just which significant issue I should address next.

  6. That’s what crossing guards are for and are used to good effect on busy streets thoughout Morristown. I know many people who walk their kids to school at Normandy Park. Feel free to reach out to Principal Miller and see if you can get him to support your views. Perhaps the people you know don’t use public schools but I am informed as my kids go to that school. I have friends who walk their kids to Normandy Park. A large contingent of students live in the neighborhood.

    We are all entitled to our opinions but it’s sad to see those with financial resources using wealth and misinformation to block sidewalks and public safety because it may impair their personal aesthetic.

  7. Patrick S. is not informed about the dangers of Normandy Parkway to school children and others. I have seen no one walk to the school in the last 15 years. Normandy Parkway is the major route to the hospital, Morristown Medical Center, and ambulances fly by here all of the time. Crosswalks would be incredibly dangerous for the ambulances to avoid hitting anyone and for the ambulance patients and ambulance medical personnel as well as the pedestrians. Also, since the Township of Morris allowed the old Honeywell property to have 234 townhouses built there, our bad traffic has gotten even worse. I frequently have to wait 5 minutes or more to turn left off of Featherleigh Road to just get onto Normandy Parkway with cars zooming by or cars blocking the intersection from the Columbia Road intersection. Normandy Parkway was designated a Historic District with its gracious old trees. Not everything needs to be cemented and made more dangerous.

  8. Patrick S….are you even aware that the proposed sidewalk is on the opposite side of the street from the school? You must be joking that you want school-age children crossing Normandy Parkway, one of the busiest streets…that is absolute crazy and incredibly dangerous. This project has nothing to do with safety or children. Please get informed and reconsider your position.

  9. As a parent of Normandy Park children I know of many parents who would appreciate a safe way to walk their children to school. Normandy Parkway is a 2 lane road but is dangerously inaccessible to pedestrians. It only makes sense for the safety of our towns children that sidewalks and crosswalks be added to Normandy Parkway. It is amazing that a neighbor would raise concerns about disrupting their belgian block driveway over the safety of school children. Please encourage the Morris Township Council to push forward for the safety of our towns children.

LEAVE A REPLY