‘The biggest redevelopment project in the history of Morristown’: Hospital quietly weighing major expansion

Aerial view of Morristown Medical Center (the complex at upper left), bordered on top by Franklin Street, and on the bottom by Madison Avenue. Image via Google Earth.


Atlantic Health is in talks with Morristown officials about a massive expansion of its Morristown Medical Center campus and health services along Madison Avenue.

“It’s the biggest redevelopment project in the history of Morristown,” said Councilman Stefan Armington, who is among those briefed by Atlantic in recent weeks.

Some 1.3 million square feet of facilities–more than double the size of the giant new M Station office project–could take up to two decades to complete if approved.

Morristown Medical Center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Medical Center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

An 11-story hospital tower, a six-floor parking deck extending to Franklin Street, and two new floors to an existing structure are among ideas floated for the hospital, according to several people involved in these preliminary talks.

Morristown Medical Center sits in a hospital zone that limits new construction to five stories.

Across the street on Madison Avenue, between Route 287 and Turtle Road, 11 new five- and six-story buildings, including a hotel, have been suggested by Atlantic for properties it controls, said Armington, who also serves on the planning board. This MX2 zone allows six stories.

Councilman Stefan Armington and Mayor Tim Dougherty chat at the Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest, 9/22/23. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Armington said Atlantic has indicated it would prefer one blanket approval, to preclude numerous variance requests to the zoning board, and to insulate it from political changes in town hall during a build-out that could take 15 to 20 years.

Atlantic declined to confirm specifics, telling Morristown Green it hopes to have more details to share early in 2024.

“We are excited about a variety of plans currently under consideration for Morristown Medical Center, and have started preliminary conversations with external partners to refine our vision,” Atlantic spokesman Luke Margolis acknowledged in a statement.

Morristown Medical Center, the town’s largest employer, has been rated New Jersey’s top hospital for five of the last six years. Atlantic wants to build upon that clinical excellence, which has made the center one of the state’s busiest hospitals, attracting “hundreds of thousands” of people annually for care, Margolis said.

“This requires us to keep one eye always on the future and engage in continuous internal planning for evolving care needs,” the spokesman said.

After soliciting “diverse perspectives” from its 20,000 clinicians and health care professionals, Atlantic engages “with external partners, including community members, local businesses, and elected officials,” Margolis said.

Morristown Medical Hospital is a teaching hospital affiliated with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.


The sweetener for Morristown, presumably, would be increased tax revenues–$5 million was mentioned, Armington said. Atlantic suggested the money be split by the municipality and the Morris School District at the project’s completion, Armington said.

Such revenues could be enticing at a time when local taxes are rising, and proceeds from a landmark 2015 tax settlement with the hospital are being depleted. That deal, which expires in 2025, helped the town government weather the pandemic.

But some council members and residents near the hospital are wary of a fait accompli. They are particularly concerned because two of seven council members have been excluded from briefings — and from voting on whatever Atlantic proposes.

Council President Sandi Mayer and Councilman Stefan Armington at taxi license hearing, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Council President Sandi Mayer, who represents the Fourth Ward, and Council Vice President Nathan Umbriac, an At-Large councilman, both live within 200 feet of the hospital. They say town Attorney David Minchello advised them to recuse themselves to avoid conflicts of interest.

Minchello declined to comment.

Charlotte Gabriele, president of the co-op association at the 198-unit Parsons Village, said she is mobilizing her neighbors to demand answers at council meetings.

“I find it shocking and reprehensible” that Mayer is being frozen out, Gabriele said,  asserting she also has been unable to pry details from town hall about the hospital project. “It’s going to have a huge impact. We can’t get any information.”

Since moving here from Long Island five years ago, Gabriele, who is retired, said traffic has increased dramatically. Crossing the three-square-mile town can take 25 minutes, and it’s likely to take even longer if the hospital expands significantly, she said. The prospect of 20 years of demolition- and construction noise also worries her.

Mayer, who lives in Parsons Village, said “it’s very frustrating, but also disappointing that Ward Four will have zero representation—and we’re the ones the most affected.”

In an email to her neighbors, the council president added: “It is beyond disturbing to me that the town bigwigs think this is a good idea, without any input from the public directly affected by this. All discussions have been behind closed doors.”

Umbriac said he respects legal advice from Minchello and planning board Attorney John Inglesino, but laments that he cannot advocate for neighbors concerned that Franklin Street traffic will “increase exponentially.”

Morristown Council V.P. Nathan Umbriac, Memorial Day 2023 on the Morristown Green. Photo by Bill Lescohier

“A lot of us have young children, and the safety and welfare of our neighbors is paramount,” Umbriac said. A six-story parking deck would loom above his backyard.

Armington said some council members pushed back on the exclusion of Mayer and Umbriac, questioning the validity of a 1960 case that was cited as a legal precedent.

Since there is no formal Atlantic application yet, there is no conflict, Armington contends. The town’s stance could be interpreted as requiring all council members to recuse themselves from voting on any town-wide zoning ordinance, he theorized.

The governing body’s request for its own legal advisor was rejected by Minchello, according to Armington, who represents the Third Ward.

Another council member, David Silva, serving At-Large, lives just beyond the 200-foot limit. He has been allowed to participate in hospital discussions.

The council will have three new members if Atlantic waits until next year to submit a proposal.

Defeated in the June Democratic primary, Mayer leaves in January. So does Armington, who is stepping down after three terms. Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten is leaving as well.


Councilman Robert Iannaccone, former CEO of St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark, has told constituents in his First Ward–which includes Madison Avenue–that he gave Atlantic “a bit of a scolding” for not involving residents from the onset.

According to Iannaccone, “it was apparent that great effort had already been put into the development of the proposal that was presented to others and myself.”

Councilman Robert Iannaccone makes a point at council meeting, July 11, 2023, as Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Any discussions should spell out why Atlantic wants to expand, what alternatives it has, and what municipal revenues and expenses would be generated, Iannaccone said in a message to First Ward residents.

Atlantic also should explain what contributions it intends to make towards open space and “the overall wellbeing of our community,” he said.

The councilman said he believes Atlantic officials heard him, and will seek input from neighborhoods that would be directly affected: Franklin Corners, Franklin Manor, Park Gardens, and Woodley/Randolph/Shady/Twombly in the First Ward; and Convent Mews and Parsons Village in the Fourth Ward.

Mayor Tim Dougherty said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment now on any future plans of the hospital.

But the mayor said his administration will follow the law and “the same public and transparent process that we have utilized in the past for development.”  He defended discussions held so far.

“I meet periodically with Morristown Medical Center as part of my job as Mayor,” Dougherty, a Democrat in his fourth term, said in a statement to Morristown Green.

Morristown is proud to host a top-ranked hospital providing world-class health care, “an enormous benefit to our community,” he said.

“Transparency and public engagement on development projects has been one of the hallmarks of my administration, and it will continue to be so….We have achieved so many positive things in Morristown by working together as a community. I am proud to be your Mayor and will continue to engage our community as best I can on any proposed development,” Dougherty said.


Over the summer, council members were invited to Atlantic’s South Street offices in small groups, as is commonly done by councils in early-stage talks, to avoid  quorums that would require a public notice.

Atlantic Health CEO Brian Gragnolati, Morristown Medical Center Chief of Nursing Carol Jones, Morristown Medical Center President Trish O'Keefe and Mayor Tim Dougherty at Morristown Jazz Fest 2018 announcement party, May 9, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Atlantic Health CEO Brian Gragnolati, Morristown Medical Center Chief of Nursing Carol Jones, Morristown Medical Center President Trish O’Keefe and Mayor Tim Dougherty at Morristown Jazz Fest 2018 announcement party, May 9, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Participants included the mayor and members of his administration, Atlantic CEO Brian Gragnolati and Morristown Medical Center President Trish O’Keefe, and their consultants, according to persons with knowledge of the meetings.

Armington said his briefing lasted about an hour. Although Atlantic’s objectives were not explicitly stated, he perceived a sense of urgency by its team to move forward, he said.

He described the presentation as Atlantic’s first draft of a proposal. Such talks between developers and town officials are not uncommon prior to major applications, he said.

While not necessarily opposed to the project, Armington said he is concerned about getting the process right.

“The definition of spot zoning is changing the zoning code to benefit one particular owner…In my opinion, approving an 11-story building on a property zoned for five stories would be spot zoning, if it was done as a zoning code change,” Armington said.

Any zone change Atlantic might seek would be subject to review by the planning board, to ensure it conforms with the town’s zoning master plan, Armington said. The master plan was updated in 2014, 2018 and 2022. Last month, the council unanimously adopted a zoning code that defines building heights that comply with the plan.

Armington said the Atlantic properties do not qualify as an “area in need of redevelopment,” so corporate officials would need another mechanism to achieve the type of development they envision.

To become designated as a redevelopment zone, property must be deemed “blighted.” That enables developers to negotiate special conditions, and request controversial tax breaks known as PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes).

Atlantic is not requesting any tax abatement, Armington said.

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  1. I have been thinking about this article. Its actually Orwellian doublespeak to say that our councilmen have a conflict of interest because they live here. The have a SHARED interest with their constituents. Its like saying that if a rep lives in a county they cant be involved in things that affect it. It would be different if this were about ..say a single building owned by a councilperson. Here, they simply share their constituents interest, and perhaps the reason such an effort was made to cut them out is that it’s obvious that this is against the interests of those who live nearby. This stinks of backroom deals.

  2. I think this entire issue smells. It has the strong appearance of underhanded dealings between Morristown politicians and The Atlantic Health System. As the news article states, fait accompli, this is already a done deal. This is a matter for the Morris County, NJ Prosecutor’s Office, or the NJ State Attorney General’s Office to investigate. Corruption? Payoffs?

  3. This whole Republican branding of “I am scared of everything” is not only silly, but dishonest:

    “Morristown would still be somewhere you didn’t even want to get out of your car, like it was when I was growing up 20 years ago”

    Morristown was really a “no go zone” in 2003, Connor? Give me a break…

  4. Just openly admitting that they’re doing this to skirt public scrutiny and reporting! Rank corruption.

    “Over the summer, council members were invited to Atlantic’s South Street offices in small groups, as is commonly done by councils in early-stage talks, to avoid quorums that would require a public notice.”

  5. Got it Chris – so build nothing new because the interim construction noise will cause a temporary inconvenience? Why are rent prices so high in downtown if no one wants to live next to all the building going on there?

    Its like the old rediculous argument – Morristown is packed already, no one wants to live next to all these developments!

    The fact is people love the development or the town wouldnt be drawing so many people here in the first place. It is unbelievable the naysayers will still not admit this. Basic econ 101. And no Chris, I have nothing to gain from this beside an amazing hospital system in my town.

  6. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea clearly either doesn’t live in the immediate area or has something to gain by commenting on it. Yes, hospitals are great. And Morristown is known for its stellar doctors and nurses. However, does it need to be RIGHT smack in the middle of residential Morristown? And, massively high? And, take more than a decade to complete? No. There’s a reason this almost went way under the radar, because people know it’s not right to the people that live here. It can take up to 20 minutes to drive 0.8tenths of a mile in Morristown. Now you want to make a skyscraper hospital? Next to a hospital? With many other doctor-like buildings already here? Stop building in massively congested areas. From someone who lives literally in the blast zone of this poor decision, people are not happy.

    For the happy go lucky members here: $5M annually won’t cover fixing the potholes on south street let alone anything else. For the real estate agents: You try selling a condo when there is construction going on for 10 years. Overall: Great idea. Go build it near the swamp lands for sale that nobody uses about 3 miles away from where people live.

  7. $5m a year in tax revenues isn’t that significant when you factor in the eminent domain costs. Convent mews townhouses already have a $500k fmv

  8. @ mtowngrl – while these things should be considered, the project would result in $5M annually for the town, some of which should be earmarked for infrastructure upgrades.

    In general, there will always be people complaining about development and construction no matter what. These same people enjoy all the fruits of successful development that takes place, yet still don’t see (or admit) how it benefitted them and the town afterwards. If we listen to the naysayers all the time, nothing would ever get done and Morristown would still be somewhere you didn’t even want to get out of your car, like it was when I was growing up 20 years ago.

    This development is monumental for the area in many ways, and we should be so lucky to have a world renowned hospital in the community.

  9. I hope the Town does their job and vets the project thoroughly vs recent applications. Review the surrounding traffic, improvements are needed for the 4 lane race track called Madison Ave now. And how about upgrades to the power system, sewer system, water system? All thing not required of prior applicants. I hate to burden this one applicant but it has to start somewhere. Our current government has given away the rest of the town with little or no improvements. No investments to the infrastructure, just investments to their pockets.

  10. I love having a world class hospital in our town. But I wonder if Atlantic Health needs to expand within town to achieve what it’s looking for. It already has numerous properties around the county. Emergency services need to be quickly accessible, but could some of the other expansion plans take place where it wouldn’t affect the flow of town as much?

    Also really don’t like council members being asked to sit out when crucial town information is shared. That’s not only shady, but ill conceived. Council members are elected because residents trust them to give feedback that can make plans like this the best they can be for all involved.

  11. I’m also a Parsons Village resident and I agree with Liz’s comments. It’s undemocratic that our representatives should be excluded from meetings – even if they can legally be excluded from voting they should be allowed to keep their constituents informed of what’s happening in their ward – the presumption that they will be against the proposals is also unfair. The intention should be to allow residents their say in developments that affect them, not exclude them. I am concerned about quality of life issues while any development takes place over many, many years more than I care about my property value rising – it will likely decline in the short term given that there will be continuous noise and construction traffic. Just a simple two-lane closure at the junction of South St and Madison Ave for repainting the road caused traffic issues recently. The hospital/medical facilities co-exist very well with the surrounding residential areas and have adequate zoning laws in place. I hope the Town leadership is open and co-operative with residents in this process.

  12. I think Morristown is already built up and traffic getting worse. All of this closed door stuff and activities to avoid public notice may be business as usual, but they still stink. MMC is quite big enough already, we have enough traffic and the hospital is imo just another rapacious company looking to expand at the expense of the people who live here.

  13. Liz – more than likely your property value will go up significantly as a result of the hospital becoming larger and more internationally well-known. That is just real estate facts

  14. Cutting Town Council members out of briefings because they live in an area affected by the expansion is undemocratic. That’s the whole point of representative government – having someone on the council that lives in your specific geographical area. And tiny meetings that don’t require public notice? Very alarming developments. I cannot attend the Council meeting tomorrow night, so I sent my comments to the Clerk over email so they’ll be read into the records. I hope the powers that be listen to me, my neighbors, and the appropriate Ward representation before allowing further action.

    As resident of Parsons Village in Morristown, I’m concerned about the effect the planned hospital expansion will have on my property and on Morristown in general. Parson’s is a quiet peaceful location with ample sunlight. Years of construction, towering buildings, and excessive added traffic on Madison Ave will change the environment quite a bit. Aside from my complex and other residences adjacent to hospital property, Morristown as a whole is suffering from overbuilding and congestion. More of that is not a wise path. 287 is already a mess during rush hour, that will increase and streets such as South and Madison are going to be parking lots with the added hospital traffic.

    This is a residential area with parks, small businesses, and all the neighborhood amenities. We’re not talking about a vast expanse of empty land like the pharmaceutical office campuses on Rt 22 in Raritan. Transparency and sensitivity to residents are essential with such a mammoth project.

  15. Awesome news . And shows just how silly the boards cap on height requirements in certain areas passed a few months ago that restricts amazing companies from expanding like this.

    Morristown Medical can continue to attract the best doctors from around WORLD with this expansion, not to mention the number of permanent jobs and revenues this would create locally.