MORRISTOWN, NJ – The M-Station East, LLC application hearing considered three hypothetical paths of the proposed project at Thursday evening’s Planning Board meeting. However, it was the third path that offered a particularly concerning reality for several members on the planning board, which offered insights on the plan or lack thereof should the applicant encounter troubles occupying tenants in the second building upon the start of construction.
The project construction plan was broken down into three phases as civil engineer Sony David, an associate of Langan Engineering representing the applicant and project attorney Frank Vitolo laid out the strategy.
The first phase would feature the demolition of existing vacant storefronts at the Midtown Shopping Center as well as the building with Fatty’s and Sister’s Nail Salon at the corner of Morris St. and Spring St. Shortly thereafter the applicant would begin the construction of its six-story office building, which will feature Deloitte, one of the "Big Four" accounting organizations as its anchor tenant. The construction of the parking garage will also be underway in this phase.
Meanwhile the second phase of the plan centers around the roundabout at the intersection of Morris St. and Spring St. and expects to take at least three months to complete, according to David.
Matthew Seckler, principal of Stonefield Engineering Design representing the applicant testified in his traffic study that the pedestrian safety features of the roundabout would include:
- HAWK & Rapid Flashing Beacons
- Verbal Feedback Push Buttons
- Bar tile tactical surface
- Bollard & Chain and landscaping around edge of roundabout
- Shorter Crossing Distances
The final phase of the application is where it gets murky and that involves the construction of the second seven-story building, which is contingent on the tenant demand. If there are enough tenant(s) committed to building, construction can begin almost simultaneously with its sister six-story building.
That is a pretty big ‘if’ considering the current state of the economy and it is reasonable to forecast that there may be some issues in locating a tenant. It proved to be the climax of the virtual meeting when planning board members and residents questioned the applicant on the backup plan.
Planning board member Frank Tighe pressed Vitolo on the applicant’s plans to make sure that there wasn’t a prolonged construction site with a distracting chain linked fence.
“We’re pretty confident and hopeful that we’ll have a tenant quick,” Vitolo confidently responded.
However, he did admit that there is a possibility that the site may have to begin its construction with only the six-story building and leaving the M-Station West seven-story building in an interim state.
“Any project could have this happen where the bottom falls out of the economy or something happens and the second building can’t be built,” Vitolo suggested. “We would have to come back to the board for an amended site plan if we don’t have the interest or tenants to construct the second building.”
Stefan Armington, who serves as a planning board member and Council President echoed Tighe concerns for the applicant’s backup plan referencing a prior project on the corner of Washington St. and Schuyler Ave. where the developer put up a grassy area with a park bench. Armington asked if the applicant would be open to a plan like that and the applicant was in agreeance.
Morristown resident Stephen Zaklukiewicz, who has been an opponent to this project from Day One had a testy exchange with Vitolo during the public portion of the meeting.
“If those efforts proved fruitless, don’t you think that should be a condition to the approval of the overall that we should know what would happen especially under the current economic environment should you not be able to secure a tenant?” Zaklukiewicz asked the Planning Board. “I can envision a scenario where you have no tenant, there is no plan and we’re a year or two down the road and we have an empty lot with tractors and a chain linked fence.”
When he uttered the word ‘negligent,’ a word board planner Phil Abramson said and almost immediately scaled back on when asked to clarify his position, it struck a nerve with Vitolo.
“That just proves my point about why I brought up my objections for people like you who will take it, run with it and try to imply that there is some negligence here,” Vitolo responded.
The two sparred with each other for about a minute before planning board chairman Joseph Stanley stepped in to restore order.
The interim time period phase will be discussed with the Mayor and Administration in the redevelopment agreement, according to Vitolo. Zaklukiewicz tried to carry on anyway, but was muted and did not speak again for the remainder of the meeting.
At that point Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty spoke up and asked board attorney John Inglesino to discuss the safeguards that are laid out in a redevelopment agreement to protect the town and the obligations of the applicant by law.
“One of the conditions of approval is that this would be subject to the execution of a redevelopment agreement,” said Inglesino. “In the redevelopment agreement, as the Mayor suggests, there are going to be negotiated time periods and obligations whereby the developer will have to perform.”
“If there isn’t a second building built within certain periods of time, what then becomes the town’s remedy or the developer’s obligation to provide some sort of landscaping,” he continued. “We’d have to make sure the town has the security and wherewithal financial to force the developer to perform those improvements. If they don’t there will be consequences for non-performance that may result in loss of property to obligation to make significant landscape improvements that could serve the community well until the second building can be built.”
Should the project reach that interim stage, Vitolo agrees that it will work within the redevelopment agreement to make a reasonable compromise.
“In that third path, we would have to come back to the town to apply for an amendment to the site plan,” said Vitolo. “Because at that point, it would be of course a different project and we’d have to come up with some solution to this future stage 2. It is our preference and I’m sure it’s the Town’s, that we can construct these very close together.”
Other issues with the waiver of the environmental impact statement resurfaced as Armington pressed for clarity on the board’s stance and the applicant’s obligations. More specifically he was interested in an air quality study around the garage. Although the applicant did not commit to doing one before the project start date, they did claim they would agree to conduct one after the first phase and that seemed to suffice.
The next hearing on this application will take place on Thursday, June 18 at 7 p.m. in another Zoom virtual conference call and is expected feature the testimony of planner Paul Phillips. It is unclear if a decision on this application will be made at that meeting, but as of right now there are no additional hearings scheduled after Thursday.