The Morristown council solved one mystery on Tuesday and pondered another. Both involved developer Hampshire Realty.
Mystery solved: 21 South St. This remodeled Hampshire building at the corner of DeHart Street, which also houses a Wells Fargo branch, is where the French pharma giant Sanofi will move its regional Consumer Healthcare operations from Bridgewater.
SANOFI ON SOUTH
Sanofi’s plans to move from Somerset County and lease 260,000 square feet at the M Station development at Morris and Spring streets leaked out last week. But corporate and town officials were mum about a second Morristown location, where approximately 17,000 square feet will be leased.
Council Vice President Nathan Umbriac, who works for Sanofi, let that cat out of the bag during Tuesday’s half-hour hybrid meeting.
“I’m obviously excited. It’s great for the community, it’s great for Sanofi as an organization to be in a great downtown like Morristown,” Umbriac said.
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who was vacationing when the M Station news broke in Bridgewater (“we couldn’t put a cork in it”), told the council the Sanofi deal, which is bringing 1,900 jobs, was more than a year in the making.
“It’s a huge win for Morristown. It’s a great company, and an unbelievable investment in our downtown,” the mayor said.
MAX ON MORRIS
There was some consternation about who will manage Max on Morris apartments designated for adults with special needs.
“I’m very disappointed that the Arc didn’t get this,” said Bill Byrne, an advocate for people with disabilities who has worked closely with ArcMorris. Established in 1952, the nonprofit runs 26 state-licensed programs in Morris County, according to its website.
Hampshire attorney Frank Vitolo, reached by Morristown Green after Tuesday’s meeting, said he could not discuss the special needs situation because a conflict precluded his involvement with it.
“I can’t comment because I represent both Nate and Hampshire at Morris Street,” said the lawyer, who worked pro bono for Cohome founder Nate Diskint during a year of zoning board hearings involving a Cohome group home for developmentally disabled adults in Morristown’s Historic District.
Diskint could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Town officials, though generally pleased with Max on Morris, said they had pitched The Arc in discussions with Hampshire. Failing to nail down this oversight was an oversight, Councilman Stefan Armington told Byrne.
“Unfortunately, Billy, that was my fault. I was the council president when the agreement for the Morris Street apartments was put in place. And I did not include the requirement that the operational body had to be licensed. So I’m sorry about that.”
Indeed, every other element of the 85-apartment Max on Morris project at 171-175 Morris St. appears to have received intense municipal scrutiny, starting with a proposed self-storage facility, shot down amidst vociferous public opposition years ago.
For the apartments, the planning board questioned everything down to the type and shades of brick. The council granted Hampshire a controversial tax break known as a PILOT (“Payments In Lieu of Taxes”) after extracting a pledge that 14 of 18 affordable units would be special needs housing. Up to 28 persons with special needs may live in those 14 apartments.
On Tuesday, the council even voted unanimously to ensure Hampshire pays $100,000 for public art at the site.
While Cohome was not mentioned by name, council members and the mayor expressed concerns.
“I think on the operational side, we truly need an experienced operator, and I’m a little concerned about that,” said Councilman Robert Iannaccone, who had proposed the special needs housing. It’s within easy walking distance of the downtown, and of jobs at Morristown Medical Center, he noted.
Iannaccone said he was “very disappointed” Hampshire did not follow up with The Arc. State-licensed supervision is important, he said, because it helps ensure special needs housing is not reserved only for the wealthy.
Licensure also brings bi-annual state inspections, and associated services — psychiatrists, social workers, work preceptors — to help special needs residents “integrate not just in the building, but in the community,” said the councilman. He vowed “to keep a very close eye on the operation.”
Dougherty, who supported the redevelopment project with the planning board, suggested leadership changes at ArcMorris during the pandemic may have caused some confusion. He hailed Max on Morris as “a very nice building,” and said the town cannot dictate Hampshire’s choice of special needs supervisors. But he echoed Iannaccone’s call for vigilance.
“We couldn’t force the developer to do what only we wanted,” the mayor said. “He didn’t break any laws. But we will keep a close eye on it.”
During a year of zoning board hearings — Cohome finally got permission in January to convert a cottage into a caretaker’s apartment at its Miller Road group home — Diskint acknowledged Cohome is not state-licensed. But he said its service providers are, and he testified that Cohome screens its help according to state standards. The group home opened in 2019.
Cohome also seeks approvals to erect a residential/commercial building on Maple Avenue for people with intellectual disabilities.
First dubbed “The LW,” for “Live/Work,” and later called The Revolution, Max on Morris soon will host its grand opening. Monthly rents of studios to two-bedroom units are listed from $2,478, to $5,680, on Apartments.com.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
Fee hikes for the Burnham Pool were approved unanimously. Resident family badges are increasing from $250 to $265. Couples will pay $230, up from $215. Adult fees are rising from $155 to $165 for the summer season. For youths, it’s $125, a $10 hike. Senior rates are going from $59 to $65. All the rates are here.
And the mayor presented a Women’s History Month proclamation to town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
“What you’ve brought to this town over the last seven years is unprecedented,” Dougherty said.