May 7, 2021

Square Feet: A Suburban Town Sees Housing Where Retail Rules

It is an urban style of living — Mr. Eppolito can walk to two coffee shops for his morning brew — that he compares to Manhattan or Hoboken. His condominium, called 40 Park, is part of a burst of development and redevelopment that has brought more than 500 new residential units to Morristown in the last three years, attracted young professionals and well-to-do baby boomers, and ignited interest in the town of about 19,000, said Mayor Timothy Dougherty, who was elected in 2009.

“We’re very fortunate in this economy that people still want to come here and invest,” said Mr. Dougherty, 52, who is the chief engineer at the Prudential Center in Newark. “We have a huge younger population moving in. I have people every day wanting to meet in my office and wanting to talk about different ideas.”

Now the town is hoping the recent residential growth around the Green and the train station will carry over to Speedwell Avenue, where a mixed-use project that would displace small businesses and a number of 19th-century homes in a largely Latino neighborhood has met with a less-than-ecstatic reception.

Over all, Morristown seems to be doing relatively well in the economic downturn. Of approximately one million square feet of ground floor retail space available in Morristown, just 4 percent is vacant, according to estimates from Jennifer Wehring, the director of marketing for the Morristown Partnership, which oversees a special improvement district formed in 1995 when big retailers like Woolworth’s and Macy’s were closing.

Recent privately financed residential projects include 217 one- and two-bedroom rental apartments at the Highlands at Morristown Station, billed as a “transit village”; 36 luxury condominiums at the Vail Mansion on South Street, a main artery leading to the Green; 78 luxury condos and penthouses at 40 Park, a property overlooking the Green; and the Metropolitan, 130 apartments with upscale amenities behind 40 Park, connected by a brick plaza. The 40 Park project replaced Epstein’s, a landmark department store on the Green for nearly a century.

Debra Tantleff, vice president for development of the Roseland Property Company, a developer that has invested more than $250 million in new construction in the town in less than a decade, said there was a huge appetite for new residential units. “People want out of Jersey City, Hoboken and Manhattan,” she said. “The pitch we are selling is the lifestyle in Morristown.”

Among the lures are nearly 100 restaurants within walking distance of the Green; the Midtown Direct, a New Jersey Transit rail link into Manhattan; and a history that includes George Washington, who drilled his troops on the Green in 1777.

The Speedwell Avenue project, in the works since 2004, is planned to have 800 residential units in low-rise buildings on 11 acres, with 65,000 to 85,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. It will be built in four phases.

The first phase is to include 268 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments with underground parking on 2.3 acres, but the project has stalled because of the recession and haggling over the percentage of affordable apartments, a figure that went from 20 percent in the euphoric period before the crash to a more economically manageable 10 percent, Mr. Dougherty said.

Phase II, on a site adjacent to the first, has been designed on about 3.5 acres to include two apartment buildings with up to 200 rental apartments, a two-acre “mini Green” and 14 town house units, although the exact mix has not been decided.

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