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April 21, 2021

Distillery gets seven thumbs up from Morristown board


It took four hearings, but Dismal Harmony is happy.  The proposed whiskey distillery got the equivalent of seven raised glasses from the Morristown zoning board on Wednesday.

“I’m elated… it feels great when others get and appreciate your vision,” Mendham tech entrepreneur Bob Dillon said after winning unanimous approval at the virtual session.

Dillon received variances to sidestep parking and loading zone requirements, enabling him to convert a long-vacant brake shop at 77 Morris St. into a bring-your-own-food distillery that promises craft whiskeys and $15 cocktails.

“I don’t think parking is an issue here. I think this is a unique and very interesting use and I applaud Mr. Dillon for seeing the vision of this building. This building is in terrible shape,” said board Chairman Steve Pylypchuk.

The former Cy’s Brakes, which has been approved for a craft whiskey distillery. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Dillon hopes to open for business by year’s end. He already has a federal permit. A license from the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the last piece of the regulatory puzzle, must await completion of construction.

Town approvals came with conditions. These include:

  • Maximum occupancy: 49 people.
  • No outdoor music.
  • No food service inside the building.
  • Pergola lights out when the distillery closes at 10 pm.
  • Deliveries only during off-peak hours in mornings and afternoons.
  • Proof of a dumpster-sharing agreement with the Morristown Diner.
  • Any proposed changes require zoning board approval.

Additionally, Dillon must ask JCP&L to place electrical wiring underground, and he must explore the feasibility and legality of installing a crosswalk on the town-owned lane that runs past the former Cy’s Brakes and the diner to Morris Street.

While the distillery is a permitted use for the “Town Center” zone, Dillon’s five parking spaces are 10 shy of what is required. His experts convinced the board there is ample parking in the adjacent Municipal Lot 10, and in the Dalton garage, about a half-mile’s walk. The project also lacks a loading zone.

Scotto Properties of Morristown is the landlord.

Virtual meeting of the Morristown zoning board, April 20, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Board Vice Chairman Scott Wild advocated for a crosswalk, as a visual cue for motorists at night. But diner patrons traverse the lane without incident at all hours, Pylypchuk asserted.

Label for New Jersey Tea gin, proposed by the Dismal Harmony distillery, summer 2021.

“It’s something new and innovative for the town,” board member Anthony Murphy said of the distillery. “I think it’s going to be positive. You know, nobody ever wants to see vacant buildings just kind of sitting there, rotting away.”

Dismal Harmony is named for the intersection of two brooks in Mendham. The application started dismally last summer at the town planning board, which indicated the matter should be heard by the zoning board.

Three virtual hearings followed before that body. Dillon thanked his wife Karen and his professional team for their support throughout a process he believes is too expensive and cumbersome for small ventures with big ideas.

Robert Dillon has won approvals for a Morristown distillery called Dismal Harmony. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin, Dec. 15, 2021.

“Not many small business entrepreneurs will have the resources of money and time to get through the process that we went through,” said Dillon, who eventually wants to sell his products to area restaurants.

Streamlining approvals will democratize development in Morristown, leading to a wider variety of interesting uses, he contends.

“The process my application went through will weed out all but the largest and most resourced applicants, which will likely be large companies with vanilla uses,” Dillon said.