It has been in the works for over a decade. But, on Thursday night, town officials were optimistic that the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan was finally prepared to move forward.
Town Council–which acts as the redevelopment entity in Morristown–voted unanimously to approve the final amended Speedwell Redevelopment Agreement, which calls for 650 new residential units and 40,000 square feet of retail space over three phases.
"This has been around for a long time," said Mayor Tim Dougherty. "I can't say enough for the residents. We have another project now, which will start an economic driver."
The first phase of the project calls for the redeveloper Mill Creek to purchase a portion of the Department of Public Works property off Early Street for $3.5 million, as well as seven residential properties. In their place would rise 268 rental properties, with 10 percent of those properties allocated for affordable housing.
The second phase of the project calls for 214 residential units. Phase three of the project would include 180 residential units, as well as the 40,000 square feet of retail space. Affordable housing requirements would be discussed for the last two phases at a later date.
A generally jubilant and anxious vibe filled the council meeting room, with both regular attendees and others, including Marty Epstein–owner of –in attendance for the vote.
"It's a great step," he said. "Morristown is so unique in that it has prospered in these bad economic times. This is just the natural progression."
Redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino noted some of the changes made in the final revised agreement over the redevelopment agreement approved years ago. Those changes include provisions that protect the town in case the redeveloper chose to walk away from the project after completing Phase One. In the original agreement, the town would have received $7 million for the entire DPW site following the completion of Phase Two. However, there was no condition that the redeveloper needed to continue the project beyond Phase One. Essentially, Inglesino said, the redeveloper could have finished the first phase and walked away without paying.
In the new agreement, the $3.5 million for the portion of DPW property included in the first phase is required to be paid at Phase One closing, Inglesino said. Mill Creek also is required in the new agreement to hold a 30 percent equity stake in the redevelopment, and must contribute 10 percent of every dollar borrowed into a separate fund, which, "equates to an about 40 percent equity in the project," Inglesino said.
Before the big work gets underway, though, some are calling for streetscape improvements to Speedwell Avenue, including improved lighting and sidewalks. Epstein, also speaking for the , told council they are seeking a $200,000 streetscape improvement grant from the state Department of Community Affairs, and hopes the town and redeveloper also will be able to kick into the cause.
"We really want to make sure Speedwell gets what it deserves," he said.
"We'll work with the Partnership," the mayor said after the vote. "Nothing works if you don't have an administration and council that works together, which we have."
The town still needs to conduct remediation work on the DPW property. Mill Creek also still needs to go before the Planning Board for certain approvals, which principal Rich Murphy said hoped would happen in March. If everything moves along as planned, he said actual work could begin by summer.
"The hard part is done now," he said. "We have the financial desire to go forward. This is a very big first step."