The Morristown Redevelopment Agency Thursday heard a proposal from CVS that would covert the abandoned auto dealer’s buildings at Spring Street and Speedwell Avenue into a new pharmacy.
The plan is aimed at a parcel that was originally to be developed in Phase 4 of the Speedwell Redevelopment project that would transform the north side of Morristown.
But, John Inglesino, the redevelopment agency’s attorney, said CVS approached the town and the owner of the property with a plan to replace the vacant buildings with a new store. The property transfer could take place by November, and if the CVS application is approved, a new store could be on the site by August 2013.
To move forward, the town needs to agree to divide Phase 4 of the larger Speedwell project into two separate projects. Phase 4 as its now exists would redevelop the lots along Speedwell Avenue from Spring Street to Flager Street. The CVS plan only addresses the parcel from Spring to Early Street.
Town Planner Phil Abramson, of Jonathan Rose Companies, said the CVS plan would be less intense than the concept included in Phase 4, and would start to address some of the traffic and pedestrian safety issues that plague the area.
“This would allow phased-in improvements,” he said. It also meets the key principles of the Speedwell Redevelopment plan: Be neighborhood appropriate, fit the identity of Morristown and address vehicle circulation and pedestrian traffic.
The buildings on the 2.77-acre site were constructed in 1903 as a car dealership. The site has been vacant for a number of years and has at least eight zoning violations that hamper reuse of the buildings, Abramson said.
CVS would construct a 23,000-square foot building with 78 parking spaces on 2.2 acres. The building would be modeled on structures along South Street and Maple Street that feature a mix of materials and simple, columned facades, he said.
The adjacent lot to the immediate north where the former Blockbuster store was located, could hold a three-story building with 36 housing units, 8,600-square feet of retail and 34 parking spaces. Michael Tobia, planning advisor for CVS, said the pharmacy company is not involved with the potential development of the other site.
The plan presented Thursday would generate 114 fewer housing units and cut 26,000 square feet of retail space from the site.
Abramson said the most pressing issues in the neighborhood are traffic flow and pedestrian traffic.
He said CVS has agreed if their store is approved, to add striping to Early Street and re-time the traffic light at Early and Speedwell to allow right turns onto Speedwell. The company would also include a new northbound travel lane in front of its store to speed through traffic trying to avoid the left lane back-up at Early Street, he said.
In addition, CVS would add sidewalks, streetscape features and develop enhanced crosswalks with better signals at Early Street to improve pedestrian safety. The store would hire 90 construction workers and plans to have 30 part-time workers and 10 full-time employees.
Abramson said these changes are part of a larger traffic mediation plan for the overall project that could redesign the Spring Street-Speedwell intersection. CVS would address the parts of the overall plan that are connected with its own store, such as aligning its northern driveway with Early Street where there is a traffic signal.
The proposal met with a mixed response from the agency members.
Rebecca Feldman wondered if the design of the CVS driveway would tempt northbound drivers stuck at the lights at Spring and Speedwell to use the lot as an impromptu jug handle to jump the traffic.
Alison Deeb asked, “how can we meet both needs” for better vehicle traffic movement and pedestrian safety?
Stefan Armington said he didn’t think the planned traffic improvements would actually make traveling through the area any better since new development would be added.
Feldman questioned the overall project, saying she was concerned that the CVS, even as the company modified its store model to meet the style of the neighborhood and Morristown’s appearance requirements, would still seem like a strip mall drug store. She asked if the town’s historic preservation group should examine the history of the current buildings.
Agency president Michelle Harris said the CVS would bring a needed service to the neighborhood. She suggested that CVS work with the high school and state labor department when the company was ready to hire.
Resident Margaret Brady said she was at first skeptical about the CVS proposal, but changed her mind. The neighborhood would be well served by having a pharmacy, she said, and the buildings it would replace are just old and blighted.
In addition, in an area constrained by the taller buildings at Headquarters Plaza to the south and the potential for some taller structures across the street as the main part of the Speedwell project is completed, the CVS parking lot would add a little open space to a neighborhood that is closing in.