After several months, five public hearings and hours of discussion among township officials, experts and the public since the zoning ordinance to allow Honeywell to redevelop its corporate headquarters was introduced, the ordinance was approved by the Township Committee on Monday night.
In a meeting that lasted more than six hours, the committee voted 4-1, with lone Democrat Jeff Grayzel with the one 'no' vote, on the ordinance that would let Honeywell bring in 235 townhouses and expanded office and lab space on its 147-acre property.
The process to redevelop the Fortune-100 company's global headquarters has been going on for more than two years, but it wasn't until June that the township planning board unanimously approved the master plan amendment, and when the Township Committee introduced the approved ordinance that conforms with the master plan.
Now that the Township Committee approved the ordinance, the next step of the development process is for Honeywell to develop a site plan that the planning board has to approve.
In the site plan, referred to as a general development plan (GDP), Honeywell will craft a map of the general locations for uses that show the density, floor areas for office, general plans for traffic, plans for utilities, and a fiscal analysis.
About 40 residents attended the fifth and final hearing on the ordinance, that went until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. With public comment ending around midnight, and the remaining time left for committee members to make comments, many residents stayed until the very end to hear the final vote.
Moments after the ordinance was approved, Honeywell released a statement saying the company is "pleased" with the Township Committee's decision, noting the benefits of the redevelopment plan which it says would enable millions of dollars in capital investment, create hundreds of new jobs, generate millions of dollars in permitting fees and annual tax revenues, and preserve open space.
"After more than two years of productive dialogue and more than 50 community meetings, we’re pleased that the Morris Township Committee has taken this important, affirmative step toward approving our campus redevelopment plan that reflects direct and specific input from the community," the statement reads.
"We hope this vote represents final resolution of the rezoning process so that we can move forward with the development of our new world headquarters."
Residents Still Want Answers
Before the ordinance was approved, several residents—some who came up more than once throughout the course of the night—made it clear they still want to see a change in the final redevelopment plan.
Quality of life issues involving traffic, environment, and open space were all spoken about, as they have been at throughout the redevelopment process.
Some raised concerns about the loss of property values of adjacent areas to Honeywell's campus once adding in the townhouses.
Members of the group opposed to the redevelopment plan in the Citizens for Better Planning in Morris Township asked for more consideration before the ordinance was approved. The group including some of their concerns and urging residents to attend the hearings.
Resident Mary Gorse asked about the financial impact on the township during the reconstruction process. Financial expert David Evans said there is no additional cost burden to the township or lost values. He said the only loss revenues would be for the buildings demolished.
Others questioned the traffic impacts, and asked why there wouldn't be any infrastructure costs to the township.
Evans answered saying that the roads surrounding Honeywell's property are county roads, not township roads, so the township isn't responsible for the costs.
The traffic analysis looked at the intersections--which are county roads—in its study because that's where the main traffic issues are. The busiest intersection at Columbia Turnpike and Park Avenue predicts a net increase between 76 and 100 trips in both the morning and evening peak hours, according to an analysis done by Gordon Meth, a traffic engineer from the RBA group.
The COAH obligation was another concern brought up, which is the affordable housing requirement that the township must meet when building the 235 townhouses. The concern is that the low and moderate housing units could either be built on Honeywell's campus or off the site in another section of Morris Township.
In Grazyel's final comments, he suggested a change in the ordinance to keep all low and moderate housing units on site, but the ordinance was passed anyway without the suggestions. Township Attorney John Mills stated that any changes in the current ordinance would have to start the process over again by first going through the planning board.
During closing statements from the committee members shortly before the ordinance was approved, Mancuso thanked the public, experts, and committee for contributing to the redevelopment plan.
In Honeywell's initial plan, the company asked for 333 townhouses, a hotel, a CCRC, 125-foot setbacks and no open space. The plan has been changed after several draft changes and public input and discussion.
"My obligation to my office and to the people of Morris Township is to thoroughly and dispassionately render a decision which is in all of our best interests; not political and doing what is best for all of us as we look to the future," Mancuso said. "We need to preserve this incredible place where we live for our children, our grandchildren, and to ensure that what we accomplish now will affect them and others positively in the future."
The Township Committee will next convene on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Morris Township Municipal Building.