MORRISTOWN, NJ – There have been more than a dozen public hearings on the transformation of Midtown Shopping Center into over 350,000 square feet of state-of-the-art office and retail space over the last year, but the wait finally appears to be over for the developers Scotto Properties and SJP Properties.
After deliberating for nearly three hours on Thursday evening, the Morristown Planning Board voted unanimously to approve board attorney John Ingelsino to prepare a resolution for the M-Station project that will include at least 61 conditions for the developers to abide by upon the construction and existence of the project. That appears to be more of a formality than anything in what figures to be the final go-ahead for the project.
“We are not going to come out of this pandemic limping,” project attorney Frank Vitolo suggested. “We are going to come out with a project that is going to infuse the town with opportunities.”
Vitolo explained that the project will bring ‘one of the best companies in the world’ to Morristown in Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms and thousands of workers here. He reiterated their commitment even during the environment of the pandemic.
Morristown Mayor Timothy Dougherty said that the approval of the project is another step that ‘puts Morristown on the map as a premier community.’
“This is a Class A office building that is the first one to be built in Morristown in a very long time,” added Mayor Dougherty. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for Morristown for having SJP Properties and Scotto all working together. I’m happy to be part of it in Morristown’s history.”
Respected planner Paul Phillips offered his insights on the requested variances and deviations that the developer was requesting and gave the project his blessing. He gave no indication that anything was particularly egregious in nature.
The hearing included follow-up testimonies from previous witnesses from the site architect, traffic engineer and civil engineer while addressing any concerns and requests from planning board members as well as a final opportunity for the public to weigh in with their opinions.
Project architect Peter Wang, a principal of the New York-based Gensler firm made several amendments to the proposed development exterior. More specifically a darker color scheme and some minor adjustments to the windows per the request of the planning board.
Wang also went into further detail on the iconic architectural terracotta materials, which will be a signature feature on the building. While the material’s use in the Morris County area is unconventional, it is found on some of New York City’s iconic facades from the Flatiron Building to the Plaza Hotel near Central Park. It also comes with a 30-year warranty, according to Wang.
Planning Board Chairman Joseph Stanley informed his peers that he had visited a building at the Rutgers University Campus on College Ave. in New Brunswick that applied the terracotta finish to the exterior and he was comfortable with the appearance.
During public comment, several residents voiced their opinions against the project.
Morristown resident Stephen Zaklukiewicz, who has been an opponent to this project throughout the process, still had concerns with the traffic roundabout.
Zaklukiewicz requested a delay in the vote until Morris County could review the traffic impact study and asked that the planning board consider a PILOT program before approving the application.
Inglesino, however, interrupted by stating that for a PILOT program to be granted, it would have to be done through an application by the developer to the governing body and that it must be approved as an ordinance.
Meanwhile, Matthew Seckler, principal of Stonefield Engineering Design representing the applicant testified in his traffic study earlier in the hearing 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
Seckler described the step-by-step construction process and indicated that the developer would install HAWK and rapid flashing beacons underground at each of the four streets at the roundabout for pedestrian benefit. However, he said that it is expected that two of the four streets would utilize them to start.
Zaklukiewicz also pressed the planning board on the waiver of the environmental impact study, but that had already been addressed by the developer, who agreed to conduct an air quality test after the start of the first phase.
Board member Stefan Armington initially raised concerns about this subject, but the applicant’s promised actions and other precedents in parking garage constructions the predated this project set his mind more at ease.
Morristown resident Margret Brady called for the planning board to only vote on the first phase of the three-phase construction plan since there is still some uncertainty of when the entirety of the project is completed. That is contingent upon finding a tenant for the M-Station West Building, the seven-story office building. Otherwise, the development for the second building will go into an interim phase.
“I think it would be foolhardy to vote on all three phases today with so many questions still up in the air, and so many uncertainties,” Brady said.
It’s a legitimate concern, but that interim scenario was addressed by Inglesino, the board attorney at a prior meeting indicating that the developer would be subject to follow the redevelopment agreement and abide to the parameters set. If not, there would be consequences against the developer.
Mayor Dougherty, however, was more bullish on the tenant demand for office space in Morristown.
“I have a different opinion than the public arena and believe that the second building is going to go much faster than anticipated,” Mayor Dougherty suggested. “I think many people are viewing Morristown as a community where they can grow their business, live and work here. It is a very desirable community for Class A office space.”
Businessman Doug Greenberger doubled down on the project during public comment and said it was “one of the best projects that Morristown has ever seen.”
However, there is one final approval hurdle and the planning board will vote on the resolution for the M-Station project that includes those 61 conditions as prepared by Inglesino on Thursday evening.
“I want to make sure that our board professionals and the applicant professionals dot their I’s and cross their T’s because there is a lot of information that has transpired over these last five meetings,” Mayor Dougherty added. “All of the questions and concerns of the board members must be reflected in that paperwork.”
Given the positive demeanor of the planning board members last week and a unanimous vote to have Inglesino draft a resolution that includes conditions for the developer, it would be surprising if the majority voted against it. Especially since the applicant has been flexible with accommodating the requests of the planning board and integrating that into the development.