With site plan approval Thursday night for CVS after a nearly-four-hour Planning Board meeting, developers indicated their intent to break ground sometime this year.
Shortly before 11:30 p.m., the Board almost unanimously voted in favor of the plan, with only board member Michael Pooler "abstaining." Pooler had cited his concern with certain traffic issues, particularly the developer's reluctance to prohibit left-hand turns into the property from Spring Street for more hours than already agreed.
The site plan approval Thursday follows the town's redevelopment agency approval in December to modify a portion of Phase IV of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan already approved for up to 45,000 square feet of retail space and about 150 residential units.
A number of conditions were placed on the plan by the board before giving their OK, including prohibiting left-hand turns onto the Spring Street entrance between 3 and 7 p.m. during weekdays; an increase in the number of items recycled beyond CVS' standard recycling of cardboard; a reduction in the height of two "monument" signs that will be located at the two entrances to the property, on Spring Street and Speedwell Avenue; and a two-month police presence during the peak weekday hours of 4 to 7 p.m., to gauge whether or not traffic is flowing as properly and safely as planners have predicted. Unlike many others in the company's portfolio, the Morristown CVS would not be open 24 hours, instead maintaining a set 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule.
In addition, everyone will reconvene six months after the pharmacy opens to review the project thus far, and decide whether or not alterations and adjustments may be required.
The long meeting was at times mildly-contentious, as several board members grilled several witnesses on issues including traffic, signage and drainage on the 96,616 square foot property, which will house a 14,900 square foot CVS and is anticipated to employ between 30 and 35 people.
Brett Skapinetz, an engineer with Dynamic Engineering, noted the property as it is today is nearly 90 percent impervious coverage--buildings, concrete and such. Six driveways enter the crumbling parcel, with one of those at the far end of the property on Spring Street leading only to a dead-end.
That entrance would serve as one of two entrances to CVS. On the other end on Speedwell Avenue, the entrance to what once was Blockbuster Video would be realigned to property match up with Early Street. Between the two, over 8 percent more "greenspace" would be added to the property, including a "parklet" on Speedwell Avenue.
Planning Board member Timothy Murphy raised his voice when Skapinetz contended a sidewalk from the Spring Street entrance into the property would not only not be feasible due to space constraints, but would not be utilized by pedestrians because of the road's dramatic increase in grade.
"If I need to go to CVS, instead of walking (up Spring Street and onto Speedwell), I'm cutting through," Murphy said.
Traffic Engineer Nicholas Verderese, sitting nearby, repeatedly shook his head "no" and commented how much longer it would take for someone to walk around the property, green areas and parking lot to get to the store from that entrance. "I really don't believe that will be a pedestrian movement," Skapinetz said.
"We'll see," Murphy said. "I really think it will be used."
The board mostly spoke positively about the greenspace and "parklet," designed by licensed landscape architect Carolle Huber, also one of the founders of the Grow it Green Morristown organization.
As part of the greening of the property, 71 trees would be planted, green spaces would be added near the Spring Street entrance, as well as cutting through the parking lot, to help direct rainwater runoff. Almost all plants used for the project would be native, Huber said.
For the Speedwell Avenue "parklet," Huber said, "we tried to give it its own identity." Citing this part of Morristown's more "urban" atmosphere, "it's less formal, more fun," she said.
Within the semi-enclosed public space plans include planters, chairs, a drinking fountain, bike racks, a solar-powered cell phone/laptop charging station and flat-cut boulders from Pennsylvania, which would provide seating overflow as well as a bit of character. Plans also include working with Morris Arts (formerly Arts Council of the Morris Area) for possible art displays, as well as a "community kiosk" for people to post their notices of events and promotions. CVS would be responsible for its upkeep.
When it came to the design of the actual CVS building, architect Marco Neves noted "we listened to the concerns."
Among those were the standard look of a CVS Pharmacy building, which includes a lot of stucco and not many windows. For the Morristown CVS, all stucco would be removed from the project and "a tremendous amount of glass" would be added, he said. Neves said what had ultimately been designed for the parcel was an "industrial loft-looking building."
Near the end of the meeting, as some members continued to raise concerns--primarily by then about traffic--Mayor Tim Dougherty, who sits on the Planning Board, chimed in. He noted before CVS had expressed interest in the property, the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan had been approved for a lot more retail and residential development. With CVS, there was 15,000 square feet of retail and a potential 30 residential units on the adjacent parcel, to be decided on at a later date.
"In your opinion, is this a better use for traffic flow," Dougherty asked traffic engineer Verderese.
"Absolutely," he said.