When voters will go to the polls Tuesday in Morris Township, they'll be helping decide the future of the community.
Four people are seeing two open seats on the township committee. Incumbent Daniel Caffrey, a Republican, will run alongside Andres Benvenuto. Democrat Jeff Grayzel is seeking a return to the committee (having previously served from 2007 through 2009), and is joined by Democrat Michael Kandybowicz (who replaced Mary Marley-Reidy after she dropped out of race.)
Several issues are shaping the race. But the one making most headlines recently is the propsal by Honeywell International, the township's largest taxpayer, to redevelop its property (providing increased ratables to the township in the process). Honeywell aims to bring new homes, a residential care facility and offices to its complex. But for its proposal to go through, the township would first need to change its master plan—the document that forms the basis for zoning in the township, guiding various sorts of development in various parts of town.
Caffrey serves on the township planning board, to which Honeywell has made its proposals so far, and which would be responsible for drawing up a new version of the master plan. He said as such, he is unable to comment.
His running mate, Andres Benvenuto, said both he and Caffrey have opposed the hotel and the overall density of the project. Benvenuto said the township should contract for independent traffic, financial and environmental experts to conduct their own studies and review those prepared by Honeywell. “Honeywell, as a property owner, has a right to make application to the planning board and we have a responsibility to listen to them.”
Benvenuto, in a written statement, said: "Our position is to ensure that future land development plans in the township benefit our community and residents. Zoning and master plan changes need to place our residents first. ... We will work to preserve much of the 'charm' that exists in Morris Township, ensuring future land decisions do not negatively affect the quality of life, while carefully balancing the rights of property owners. Decisions on future land development must not be made based on the potential future tax ratables of the project, rather what is best for our township residents."
The Democrats, Mike Kandybowicz and Jeffrey Grayzel, said they had several concerns about the project. They said traffic is a "major concern but not the primary issue."
"The primary issue at stake here is the nature of development in Morris Township over the next five to 10 years," the Democrats said. "We need to reduce the urbanization of our community and preserve and protect open spaces which define the characteristic of our quality of life. There is no meaningful open space component to the current Honeywell proposal. Traffic is one of the things that degrade our quality of life and reduce property values, which in turn will reduce property tax revenue. If the current proposal in its dense form is allowed to move forward then the traffic issue is paramount given that the intersection at Park Avenue and Columbia Road is already at maximum capacity during rush hour. We do not want to see commuters using our local side-streets as cut-throughs to avoid these traffic jams."
Caffrey said he is concerned that the development of a vibrant downtown in Morristown, which he said is a positive thing, increases traffic in the township.
Because Morris Township is the “doughnut” to Morristown’s “hole,” traffic must pass through the township from every direction. Morristown offers shopping as well as nightlife, so there is traffic through the township at all hours. Caffrey said the township has be careful to enforce speed limits on all of the access roads to Morristown to keep its residents safe.
Caffrey disputes the Democrats' contention that the township is less open than it could be. He said the township committee agendas are posted about 24 hours before each meeting, which he said is as early as possible in any municipality with a part-time governing body. He said the agendas are worked on constantly prior to the meeting.
He also said since each committee member serves on certain subcommittees, they don’t all have the same knowledge of each item that is dealt with by the governing body, but all committee members are kept informed of the issues that come up at meetings.
Grayzel and Kandybowicz disagree.
"The members of the township committee are not kept abreast of all issues," the said in their written statement. For instance, they said, committee members recently told Kandybowicz they were unaware of a planning board approval in 2010 for an empty building on next to the municipal parking lot at Speedwell and Gregory avenues.
What's more, they said, "If the public is lucky, the agenda to the township committee meeting is posted late Monday afternoon for the Wednesday meeting. But usually township committee agendas are posted either the day before the meeting or sometimes even on the day of the meeting."