It was the zoning board equivalent of six sets of tennis, between two intense rivals.
The match finally went to the Morristown Field Club, which won approvals this week for an expansion that neighbors contested over six meetings stretching back to February.
“It’s always great to see residents take an interest in the town and their neighborhoods,” zoning board Chairman Steve Pylypchuk said after hearing nearly four hours of virtual testimony on Wednesday.
Established in 1881, the private club has made few changes since moving to James Street during World War II.
By a unanimous vote, zoning board members approved the addition of two platform tennis courts; expansion of parking from 32 to 59 spaces, which will be marked for the first time; and enlargements of the summer tennis clubhouse and the winter “paddle hut.”
Cesspools for those facilities will be replaced with hookups to the town sewer system, and drains will capture storm runoff. The private club and town officials also will explore adding a James Street crosswalk to the Loyola Jesuit Center, which shares parking with the club for special events.
‘ENTITLED TO SOME PEACE’
Ten residents, mostly from the Windmill Pond and Maxwell Court neighborhoods, testified via Zoom on Wednesday. Throughout the hearings, they raised concerns about noise, and about the harsh glare of lighting from tennis courts and car lights, a problem they said worsens when trees shed their leaves.
“It seems to me that people have testified that this is something that’s really going to be so nice for the club members. But it doesn’t seem to be so nice for the neighbors,” said Marcia Graydon, from Windmill Pond.
“We are entitled to some peace in our residential neighborhood,” said Christine Miller, a 20-year resident of Maxwell Court who has clashed with the club about court-side music.
Susan Landau of James Street added: “We can improve the club, but at what cost to the surrounding community?”
Defending the club as a jewel that should engender community pride, the project’s attorney, former Mayor Jay DeLaney Jr., dangled a “what if?” alternative: Selling the property for a housing development.
Pylypchuk acknowledged residents’ concerns as well as the club’s ability and desire to perform upgrades, unlike many sports facilities that fall into disrepair.
“This is a significant improvement,” the chairman said.
Some friction is inevitable, said board member James Bednarz, a member of Morristown’s Kellogg Club.
“We shouldn’t go away thinking it’s going to be perfect, because people are people. Sometimes the rules get away from people,” he said.
Yet such organizations are part of the town’s historic fabric. They provide valuable opportunities for socializing, and introduce nonresident members to the town’s restaurants and shops, Bednarz said.
“These are good things for the community,” involving people who give back in myriad ways, he said.
The zoning board and club agreed to a handful of conditions meant to quell some of the concerns.
Existing courts have 32 lights, and the two new ones will bring 16 more. Now all lights must shut off by 9:30 pm, and stay off through dawn hours. Lights also must adhere to “Dark Sky” specifications to minimize spillover.
Strategic additions of trees and fencing should screen headlights in parking areas, Pylypchuk said. Creation of marked spaces also should eliminate haphazard parking, he said.
Noise from pickleball–a wildly popular variant of tennis that uses a loud plastic ball–also has vexed neighbors.
The club removed plans for new pickleball courts from its application. However, as a “nonconforming use” that predates modern zoning, the club retains the right to re-stripe existing tennis courts for the hybrid sport.
(Variances only were needed for substantial changes to the 9.1-acre site.)
DeLaney presented testimony from a planner, a civil engineer, an architect and a club representative. Some work may be delayed because of supply chain issues, according to the club.