CVS Pharmacy Approved for Speedwell Avenue
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, however, expressed displeasure with the plan before casting the lone 'no' vote Thursday night.
An amendment to Phase IV of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan allowing a CVS Pharmacy to be built on the site of a former used car dealership was approved Thursday night, but not before one council member let her disappoval be known.
Rebecca Feldman, the lone Independent council member among the majority of Democrats and one Republican, cast the only "no" vote for a project the First Ward representative said the town had rushed too quickly to approve, fearing nothing else would come along.
"There is a sense of desperation surrounding the way this decision is being made—a fear that a long-vacant property will remain empty," Feldman read from a prepared statement. "In reality, within six months of our signing Mill Creek’s redevelopment agreement for the Early Street building (as part of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan —ed.), a buyer for this corner came forward. It’s as if the 'start' button was just pressed, and CVS is smart to be the first to follow."
Feldman said while the expectation of a "corner drugstore" in that section of town was appealing, "unfortunately, CVS’ corporate office prefers to operate 'highway style stores' designed mainly for rush-hour drivers and tractor trailers.
"From all their months of hard negotiations with CVS, the Administration has done all they could to make the typical CVS store fit in to our downtown as best they could," she continued. "And they gained plenty of aesthetic improvements. But what we are being told is a 'cutting edge plaza, mixing cars and people together' is really a two-way roadway around a front yard along one of the busiest pedestrian sidewalks in our town."
Feldman also had been the only member of Town Council—which acts in Morristown as the town's redevelopment agency—to voice disapproval with the Phase IV amendment when it was introduced last month. There, she "abstained" her vote, citing concern with "a lack of information on the safety risks of the two-way driveway," she said at the time.
That two-way driveway had also met with contention from Councilman Stefan Armington, who both in November and on Thursday night stumped for adding language that would require CVS to make it one-way only. He cited safety concerns a two-way "service roadway"—mostly for deliveries and emergency vehicles—could present to an adjacent "pedestrian plaza," a public area envisioned as a meeting place with options for sitting, eating, events and more.
Professional Planner Daniel Hernandez of Jonathan Rose Companies said, however, the safety of the space—whether hosting a one-way or two-way service roadway—had been designed into the project. Still, the issue could be revisited later as specific site plans move to the Planning Board.
It appeared to be enough for Armington, who voted in favor of the amendment, as well as for Mayor Tim Dougherty, who said while he respected Feldman's opinion, "I totally disagree with you."
The mayor—who has been a vocal proponent for the project—recounted how he recently went to "every store on Speedwell" and noted the universal excitement he experienced when discussing the possibility of a CVS Pharmacy on the corner Speedwell Avenue and Spring Street. "They can't wait for CVS," he said. "With all sites you have to negotiate the best possible site plan, and I think we have."
Dougherty referred to a comparison planner Phil Abramson made last week when the amendment went before the Planning Board for a vote on whether it conformed to the town's Master Plan. Then, Abramson had said the previously-approved apartment building there would have been built in such a way that it would have been another tall building essentially turning its back on the Second Ward.
"What Headquarters Plaza did to the Second Ward ... it was very bad planning," he said at that meeting. A CVS on that site would instead spur additional investment in the area, an opinion echoed by Second Ward Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid Thursday night.
"The Second Ward is excited," she said. "This is only I am sure the beginning. Hopefully, it will bring others to the area."
Feldman after the meeting emphasized she had not been on the council when the original apartment building had been approved there, and was not in favor of that, either.
In her statement, she said the corner of Speedwell and Spring "is a terrific location for a corner drugstore, but put it at the corner, and the vehicles behind, where they belong.
"Otherwise, in the future no one will care about 'why' you rationalized putting a road right in front of this place, any more than they care about 'why' Headquarters and Pioneer Plaza are so desolate—they will just know that it was the wrong thing to do."