Morristown's Washington Street project questioned by residents

by Tanya Drobness

Longtime Morristown resident Bill "Toby" Tyler has seen enough redevelopment that he said has not benefited the community, and believes the town's estimated $40 million Washington Street redevelopment project is no exception.

At a recent public forum in Morristown, Tyler said he is not convinced there is a need to build.

"That's just bogus," said Tyler, 62, who served on Morristown's housing authorityabout20 yearsago."Thetowncouncilispayingmoreattention to the redevelopers than the residents."

Theproject,whichcomprisesabout2-anda halfacresandtwoseparate properties, had dozens of concerned residents flooding Morristown's town hall during Tuesdaynight's council meeting and last week's public forum, questioning the motivation behind the plan and taking issue with the possibilityofincreased traffic.Butsometown officialssaidtheredevelopment would create jobs and affordable and luxury housing, along with the possibilityofofficespace.Another publicforum isscheduledfor June18.

"Therearemanybenefits,"saidMorristownMayor DonaldCresitello."The surfaceparkinglotwillbereplacedwith a ratable,andmuchoftheproperty will be converted into a green space," he said, adding that the project would generate nearly $500,000 in taxes for the town's share of the project.

The bulk of the project consists of the existing surface parking lot behind the ChancerySquare apartments on Cattano Avenue. The Rowe-Lanterman Homefor Funeralsstructure,ownedbyformer Morristowncouncilman AnthonyTartaglia,sitsona smaller lotthatispartoftheproject,saidplanner Paul Phillips. His New York City-based firm Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates washiredbythetown onApril28 topreparea redevelopmentplan.

There is currently no plan in place, said Phillips, who also is spear-heading the Epstein's, Spring Street and Speedwell Avenue redevelopment projects in Morristown.Thedesignated WashingtonStreetpropertyiszonedfor mid-rise apartments and office buildings, he said. Morristown's parking authority owns the property.

"We're going to come up with a plan that will define the appropriate uses, appropriate design and height of the buildings, and appropriate green space, public space and parking," Phillips said.

Local developer Hugh DeFazio and Texas-based Criterion Development Partners are currently developing the project, Cresitello said.

Council members approved the designation on March 12, though three councilors were running late and not present to vote.

Alison Deeb, a councilwoman who was absent when the vote was taken, said further research and studies should be conducted, and there should have been more communityinput before the designation was approved.

"We have all ofthese apartments in town. Do we need this one?" Deeb asked.

"The communityshould be driving the process, not the redeveloper."

Earlier this year, Phillips conducted a study -an area in need of redevelopment investigation -and determined the property meets redevelopment criteria under the state's Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.