In Morristown, NJ, a collaboration to transform a previously underutilized downtown lot led to a model sustainable project that provides much-needed housing, office space, retail, and parking for the community. Called 14 Maple Avenue, this multi-use project perfectly demonstrates how cars can be seamlessly incorporated into a suburban main street environment—and actually encourage, rather than inhibit, a dynamic, walkable suburban downtown.
“This project started with the parking,” says project manager Glenn Haydu, from Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners, the firm that worked on the redevelopment plan. “There was an overall shortage of parking. People were either fighting with residents for street spaces, or they just went somewhere else since it was so hard to park. The demand for this facility already existed.”
Morristown, a suburban community with a population just under 20,000, is a thriving town and “a well-established walking town, with tons of shops and restaurants,” says Haydu. The challenge then was to enhance the area’s walkable nature while also providing more parking, and one site proved the ideal place for this project. For over a century, Epstein’s department store was a shopping destination. But in 2004, driven out of business by malls, Epstein’s closed down. Abutted by a surface parking lot, the land was underused—yet sat just a block away from the town green. At the epicenter of town, it was prime real estate.
After the town deemed the site in need of redevelopment, Epstein’s entered a purchase agreement with developers and the Morristown Parking Authority. The parking authority created a redevelopment plan, teaming up two nonprofits, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and The Seeing Eye, both of which wanted to create office space and parking for their groups. “It’s really a story of three great entities getting together to figure out how they could plan this office building and the associated parking needed in downtown,” says Haydu.
The resulting office building and garage (financed by a municipal bond) are great successes. Linked to the office building, the garage’s 790 parking spaces are also available to people going downtown to shop, work, and dine. There are overflow spaces, too, for residents of the two new condo and apartment buildings built by private developers also on the site. As a result, each space is shared by multiple cars throughout the day and night—so that the garage is never empty or underused.
To ensure that the garage seamlessly merges with its historic brick neighbors, the garage was centered on the block and “buffered by the office building and other buildings, so that the 7-story garage isn’t visible from the street,” says Haydu. The tiny slice of the garage that can be glimpsed has been made aesthetically appealing to match its surroundings, with brick siding, landscaping, and trees.
Thanks in large part to the Dodge Foundation, which promotes sustainability, the office building and garage are also extremely green. There are geothermal wells for heating, solar panels shade rooftop parking spaces and provide energy, there’s LED lighting throughout the garage, and a 30-foot biowall. There’s even a planted roof over the offices, where workers plant veggies that they then snack on for lunch, and bicycle racks, pedestrian passageways, and plenty of signage to trains and buses encourages residents and workers to walk or use transit. As a result, the project was granted LEED Gold rating.
“We were able to take a piece of land that before only parked 80 cars and one store, and on that same piece of land, we’re now parking almost 800 cars and we have an office building, condo building, apartment building, and one more building in the future,” says Haydu. “This project has really animated the space.”