June 9, 2020
MORRISTOWN, NJ – Project architects of the M-Station East, LLC application vied for the support of the Morristown Planning Board for the better part of two and a half hours on Thursday evening as they testified on the aesthetics and functionality of the proposed development, which includes over 350,000 sq. feet of office space, promenade, and retail area space in two separate structures – six-story and seven-story buildings.
Project architect Peter Wang, a principal of the New York-based Gensler firm and Gensler Design Director Roger Smith, hired by the applicant Scotto Properties and SJP Properties pitched their concept of the development, which they likened to a smaller scale of Rockefeller Center that embodied the culture of Morristown. The inspiration of the building’s exterior design came from George + Martha’s American Grille, which encompasses a red brick and dark metal window trim.
“In life you can say that when things come in pairs they somehow seem more significant,” Wang suggested. “We want to create a more significant collection of buildings that would add in a meaningful way to Morristown.”
From top to bottom, the design factored not only the tenants and its occupants, but the Morristown community, according to the architects’ testimonies.
“We wanted to design a people-centered project,” Smith said in his opening statements to the board. “We wanted this to be a welcoming experience to everyone. It is not only about designing for the future tenants of the building, but more importantly to fit into the community, citizens of the town and visitors alike.”
The architects also outlined a terrace plaza on the development site, which could be used for a variety of gatherings such as concerts and other events. The plaza’s features would also include a pedestrian space with freshly planted greenery to boost sustainability. .
“We consider our site as a bridge that sits at a very important crossroads – one that links the train station, the Morris Street itself and up to the Morristown Green,” Smith added. “Our goal is to create a dynamic new destination that brings optimistic new energy and vitality to Morristown. This design seeks to create a strong contextual identity that provides a vibrant new destination.”
As with most large parking decks, they are not typically nice to look at as they serve a more practical purpose of cramming as many spaces as possible in the lots. However, the architects’ had a solution to that problem through fabric polyester murals with screens that encompass depictures of Morristown’s rich history. It was defined as a way to ‘introduce art that enhances public life, placemaking, and cultural significance.’
However, planning board member Debra Gottsleben expressed her concerns for the longevity of the murals. While the fabric polyester screens come with a 10-year warranty, she inquired on the obligations that the applicant would have to maintaining the integrity of the aesthetics.
The architects agreed with the notion, but assured that it would be in the best interest of the owner to keep a properly maintained building and that a maintenance stipulation could be implemented in the development plan.
One of the issues outlined by local residents in the previous planning board meeting was with the applicant’s request for a waiver of the environmental impact statement during civil engineer witness Sony David’s testimony.
Sustainability was among the areas of focus during the architect’s presentation on Thursday evening and Smith describe the plan in detail to the board. Among the key items the witness testified to integrate in the architectural plan included:
An unconventional use of architectural terracotta, a quality fired mixtures of clay and water was highlighted as a cornerstone of the building’s exterior. While it is a technique more commonly used in European buildings, it is also found on some of New York City’s iconic facades from the Flatiron building to The Plaza Hotel near Central Park.
Morristown Mayor Timothy Dougherty had an array of questions about the use of the architectural terracotta and whether the architects had considered other designs. Wang testified that this had been the plan since Day One, although they had considered other options.
“That’s what’s really great about the (redevelopment guidelines) that are written – it forces the architect to respect what is there and what is around town,” Wang explained. “We can’t just plop something in that looks like it was dropped from outer space and think that it’s going to work. It has to feel that it belongs in the place that we are trying to create.”
Mayor Dougherty didn’t seem convinced and expressed his desire to see buildings with terracotta in person himself ahead of the next planning board meeting to investigate himself. He also expressed his desire for the promenade of the building to be flexible with the tenants on the retail space side.
“The promenade is key to the beginning of the success of this overall development,” said Mayor Dougherty, who inquired about how the retail space will be utilized. “I agree with some other people in the town that want to make this promenade a destination.”
Wang agreed, he acknowledged that they would likely be glass doors and based on what the tenant wants.
The architects concluded with a virtual tour of the project overseeing vantage points from the neighborhood encompassing the thought process behind the master plan configuration, shape and placement on the site. They testified as leveraging the Morristown Central Business District Façade guidelines as their guiding light of building and façade.
While the hearing was open for public comment, there were no questions from residents asked despite more involvement at the last planning board meeting where several residents pressed engineering witnesses on the application.
The Planning Board will meet again in a virtual Zoom meeting on Thursday, June 11 at 7:00 p.m. and the public is invited. A meeting has also been tentatively scheduled for the following which in which a decision could be made. Next week’s meeting expects to see testimonies on the overall staging of the proposed development by the applicant.