Pulte Named Redeveloper for Maple Avenue Townhouse Project
Transfer of designation approved by narrow margin Wednesday.
The Wednesday meeting was not nearly as long, but netted a similar result.
The Town Council–which serves as Morristown's redevelopment agency–approved 3-2 Wednesday night Pulte Homes as the developer of the "Maple Avenue Townhouse Project," an 18-unit project originally approved in 2008 as part of the "Epstein's Redevelopment" zone.
The approval carries a condition that it be subject to review by the Morristown Historic Preservation Commission, and revised based on "reasonable comments," said John Inglesino, the town redevelopment attorney.
James Mullen, the attorney for Pulte Homes, said his company was looking to begin construction as soon as possible on the project site, which has remained a fenced-off parking lot for at least three years.
The transfer of redeveloper designations to Pulte from Epstein's–whose principal Steve Santola told the Planning Board during the multi-hour meeting on Monday he would likely not have begun any work at the former parking lot until at least 2013–happened in whirlwind fashion, something several council members noted at both meetings. Plans for the transfer were not received by voting members until Dec. 9.
"The rush on this ... I find it all a little overwhelming and a little too much to ask," said councilwoman Alison Deeb, who, along with councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, voted against the approval.
"I'm disgusted with the process," said Deeb, who represents the Fourth Ward, where the project is located.
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman who, along with councilmembers Michelle Harris-King and Kevin Gsell (members Anthony Cattano and James Smith were not in attendance) voted for the designation, said her first reaction to receiving the plan late last week was, "No way, you have to be kidding me."
Still, she said the town deserves a great project, which "will make way for more great projects."
Of concern at both Monday's Planning Board meeting, and Wednesday's redevelopment meeting, were architectural changes Pulte was proposing from the already-approved 2008 plan.
On Monday, several Planning Board members and audience members–which included Feldman and Deeb–took issue with many of the changes, calling the proposed project "cookie-cutter."
Architect William Fineberg came to the redevelopment meeting Wednesday with a number of changes to Monday's draft, including the addition of chimney facades and garage doors considered more in character with the neighborhood. Unlike previously, more emphasis was placed on the side of the project facing historic Macculloch Avenue, which detractors on Monday had said was getting short shrift.
Still, several audience members, including Morristown Historic Preservation Commission Chair Ken Miller, said more work was needed.
"The 2008 plan was much simpler," he said. "We need to get closer to the 2008 renderings, which are still not perfect, or work on something simpler."
Feldman noted an issue with what the town could or could not approve was that the plans approved in 2008 carried a very broad outline of what aesthetically was allowable. Still, "I think some progress has been made."
She noted the Maple Avenue side of the project would be facing the new 14 Maple Ave. building, which houses the Morristown Parking Authority, Arts Council of the Morris Area and Morristown Partnership, among others. "We have a Gold LEED-certified building that looks fantastic," Feldman said. "I just want to make sure what they look at looks just as good."
Planning Board member Stefan Armington, who hesitantly approved sending the redeveloper transfer request to the redevelopment agency on Monday, agreed that there had been improvements to the project in those two days.
"They made it more Victorian and less Colonial, more in line with the architecture in that area," he said, noting some concerns, such as front-facing garages onto busy Macculloch Avenue, could not be debated as they had long ago been approved.
"I hope the developer will be willing to work with our professionals," Armington added.