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.