Transforming the Abbey into a fashionable home furnishing store and posh restaurant took another step forward this week during a remote meeting of the Morris Township Planning Board. The board unanimously agreed Monday that the proposal is consistent with the Township’s zoning master plan. Built in 1904 on Madison Avenue’s “Millionaire’s Row,” Alnwick Hall, as the 42-room Renaissance Revival-style mansion then was known, was modeled after a 16th-century British manor.
Except for one stunning month in 2017, when the Abbey was featured in a Mansion in May benefit, the place has been vacant for years. Restoration Hardware (RH), an upscale home furnishing chain, wants to transform the Abbey into a glamorous showroom, restaurant and wine bar.
Monday’s meeting was a “master plan consistency review.” In 2018, the Township Committee designated the Abbey as a “non-condemned area in need of redevelopment.” Planning Consultant Paul Phillips was authorized to prepare a redevelopment plan, which was submitted last month to the Committee.
“At this stage, the primary if not sole issue before this Planning Board this evening is: Is this plan consistent or not inconsistent with the Master Plan, and that’s Mr. Phillips’ job,” board Attorney Steven Warner said on Monday.
Everyone participated from remote locations via a Zoom video conference, because public gatherings are prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic.
Without naming RH as the redeveloper, Phillips described the plan under consideration as fulfilling two important criteria as set forth by the Master Plan: Preserving and enhancing historic sites, and improving commercial usage where appropriate.
“The redevelopment plan itself has very detailed development standards,” said Phillips, citing setbacks, building heights, coverage, parking, access, circulation, building and architectural design, landscaping and signage.
“My recommendation to the Board based on the Master Plan documentation, is that the redevelopment plan is indeed substantially consistent with the Master Plan for the reasons stated,” Phillips said.
The board’s approval followed a brief discussion and questions regarding the layout of the buildings, the dimensions of parking stalls, emergency vehicle access, and the realignment of Canfield and Punch Bowl roads to improve traffic flow. However, the project is not a done deal.
“I want to make it clear to the public once this goes back to the Township Committee, if they were to approve it, the project would then come back again to the Planning Board for site approval, and so the Township Committee does not have the last say in this,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Grayzel, who also serves on the board.
Additional steps include the official designation of RH as the redeveloper, followed by a site plan application. If modifications or variances are required, they would have to be granted by the Planning Board as part of the site plan approval. A public forum for concerns, opinions, and questions is scheduled for April 29, 2020, although Mayor Cathy Wilson acknowledged that dates can change because of the pandemic, and the technical demands it requires to maintain social distancing.
About Tom Maoli: Mr. Maoli is the President and CEO of Celebrity Motor Cars, LLC a luxury dealership group based in New Jersey and New York. These dealerships include: Lexus of Route 10, Maserati of Morris County, Alfa Romeo of Morris County, BMW of Springfield, as well as Mercedes-Benz of Goldens Bridge. In addition to his growing automotive empire; Tom is the president and CEO of Real Estate Opportunity Investments, LLC, a residential and commercial real estate development and investment company, along with being founder and CEO of Joe Zone coffee company. Listeners may reach him via email him through his website at http://tommaoli.net.