Town Council—acting as the Morristown Redevelopment Agency—approved the introduction of the CVS Pharmacy development at Speedwell Avenue and Spring Street Thursday night.
The project, which would be built on the site long ago occupied by a used car dealership but for years abandoned, was approved for introduction 6-1, with Council Vice President Rebecca Feldman opting to abstain.
The plan is now expected to go before the Planning Board at its Dec. 6 meeting, who then will look to see that it conforms to the town's master plan. If all goes well, it would then return to the Redevelopment Agency on Dec. 13 for final adoption.
The CVS represents an amendment to part of Phase IV of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan, which was approved earlier this year. The site originally was slated for mixed-use development as part of the redevelopment plan until CVS expressed interest.
Feldman said after the meeting she chose to abstain from voting due to "a lack of information on the safety risks of the two-way driveway."
That two-way driveway met contention from several people, both from the council and audience. According to the plan, a service roadway—mostly for deliveries and emergency vehicles—would separate the CVS building from a "pedestrian plaza," a public area envisioned as a meeting place with options for sitting, eating, events and more.
However, Feldman sees such a roadway as a potential safety hazard. "Putting a two-way roadway there is really a serious safety concern," she said. "No one has told me why it needs to be there."
Councilman Stefan Armington, who also was not in favor of the service road going both ways suggested making sure a condition was placed on the application for it to only be one-way, ensuring a smaller volume of traffic passes by the proposed "plaza."
Phil Abramson, one of the planners for the project, said the design of the project accomodates for the two-way roadway. "People are not going to barrel through," he said. "It's going to be a plaza."
Several residents also had concerns.
Kendra Arnold, a Western Avenue resident and co-founder of Bike and Walk Morristown, said the service road "was laid out for cars, not people."
Tina Wohlstrom, of Washington Avenue, said she was in favor of CVS building on the site but called the whole project as it is currently "a square peg in a round hole."
Among her concerns were the deep setback of the building from the road and what she feels "is not pedestrian-oriented, it's motor vehicle oriented," she said. "We would never put that in another neighborhood, so we shouldn't put it there."
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, speaking in favor of the project, cited seating outside Swiss Chalet Bakery on South Street in comparison to the proposed plaza and its proximity to traffic. "South Street probably has as much traffic as Speedwell," she said.
While she said she appreciated the concerns raised by some fellow councilmembers and the public, "this is something needed in the community," Smith-Reid said. "It sat empty for years and years. People are happy something is coming. This is very beneficial to the immediate area."
Council President Michelle Dupree Harris expressed her approval for the entire project, echoing Smith-Reid. "We need this back," she said. "This for me is innovative."
"This is the key to opening up the second ward," Dupree Harris said, noting a "stigma" exists for some concerning the predominantly African-American and Hispanic section of town.
Ken Miller, chair of the Morristown Historical Preservation Commission—which contributed a number of suggestions to the project—said there remained some concerns, including the service road. However, overall, "the design is far superior and appropriate for that part of town," he said.
Mayor Tim Dougherty said those involved in crafting the project, including planners and others who have contributed with suggestions, were creating a CVS that would be so different from other CVS projects that "it could be a model for others," he said.
"They have done a great service to Morristown," he said. "We believe this is a good project for the public."
Franklin Street resident Margret Brady, a regular town government attendee, told the governing body she was "not originally prepared to like this at all."
After having studied the project, however, "I have to say I like it a great deal," Brady said.
Whether concern with the project was a service road, the building's design or issues of "rhythm" in line with other area structures—another concern brought up during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting—"I think we should be very happy to get it," she said.
"I sat on the council when we approved Headquarters Plaza, with an actual plaza," Brady said, noting that original approval in the late 1970s included a gathering spot where, today, the Hyatt stands. "The next council allowed extra office buildings."
Once Headquarters Plaza went up—with the additional office buildings—any prior character in that area was gone. "The area has too much density," Brady said. "We have an opportunity for a developer to put up lesser density."
"If we have a chance, let's get this done, let's not wait," she said. "Another election could change everything."