Morristown council opposes airport funding, drinking in outdoor parades and dog park

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Morristown Airport may have to wait $11.5 million for runway improvements.

In a rare move, the city council on Tuesday unanimously opposed sponsorship of the airport’s request for federal funds. The vote was intended to prompt airport management to discuss renegotiating its 1981 lease with the municipality.

‘I don’t think we should be throwing this box on the road,’ the councilman said Robert Iannacconeciting two years of unsuccessful efforts to bring DM Airports Ltd. at the table. “I’m tired of this problem.”

The no came in a 90-minute hybrid meeting that also saw the board reaffirm its denial an outdoor liquor license for The Homestead bar at the Morris County St. Patrick’s Day Parade next month.

And the governing body dug a dog park for a Budd Street playground.

Also unanimously, council approved a $116,220 contract for Historic Building Architects LLC of Trenton to assess the condition and potential uses of the Morristown Post Office, which the city hopes to purchase from the Postal Service.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty at a hybrid council meeting, February 22, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

For the first time, the mayor Tim Dougherty has publicly acknowledged its interest in moving at least some civic offices from City Hall, a cavernous former bank headquarters on South Street, to the 106-year-old post office near historic Morristown Green.

The postal building is in poor condition, according to city officials. But residents rallied in 2012 to prevent it from closing, and the mayor called it a piece of local history worth preserving.

“We can bring him back to his glory,” Dougherty said.

The city has a pair of Morris County historic preservation grants totaling about $635,000 for the post office project, the city administrator said. Jillian Barrick. Although the Postal Service is moving “icily,” she said negotiations are in the “home stretch.”

BAR NONE

A solicitor for The Homestead on DeHart Street has asked the council to reconsider its recent rejection of an application to extend the bar’s liquor license on parade day.

The Homestead first applied for permission to serve up to 750 people at a time, between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., in the Community Place parking lot at the Woman’s Club in Morristown – the same location where the Homestead’s sister tavern ran across local COVID restrictions with a beer garden in June 2020.

Attorney Robert Williams proposed reducing hours and attendance and eliminating live bands.

“I don’t think you’ll regret it,” he said, saying Homestead is contributing to the parade and supporting charities.

Morristown Council Chairman Stefan Armington at a hybrid council meeting, February 22, 2022. Screen capture by Kevin Coughlin

But the chairman of the board Stefan Armington reiterated his concerns that such a gathering would still violate the city’s noise ordinance, to the detriment of neighbors.

He also suggested that the lack of portable toilets would lead to public urination.

The council agreed.

A handful of Homestead supporters protested. They argued that businesses had suffered during the pandemic and deserved help, and insisted the parade would be louder than any outdoor party.

Downtown resident Sarah Frank presented a petition supporting the bar and expressed disappointment that council voted before hearing public comment.

In other cases, the mayor said questionnaires sent to the Budd Street neighborhood revealed that only five of 36 households wanted a dog park in their park. Council members indicated that they would respect the wishes of the majority.

Armington, meanwhile, said it may seek public comment on whether to exempt or partially exempt gas-powered leaf blowers from last year’s noise ordinance. Virtually all gas ventilators exceed the measurement’s 65-decibel limit, he said.

In practice, however, enforcing these restrictions is difficult, Dougherty noted.

CUT AIRPORT WINGS?

Morristown Airport was frequently used by President Trump. With a jetport, international flights and a U.S. customs presence, it’s no longer the “sleepy weekend recreational airport” of four decades ago when the lease was signed, Iannaccone said.

Arguing that the city deserves more airport revenue, he still cast the only dissenting vote on grants for facility upgrades.

Air Force One at Morristown Airport, May 7, 2017. Photo by Lee Goldberg
Air Force One at Morristown Airport, May 7, 2017. Photo by Lee Goldberg

Dougherty said he and previous mayors have tried over the years to engage airport management in renegotiations, without success.

Armington asked the city attorney David Minchello to investigate past campaign donations, to see if they could explain the “love” lease of the early 1980s.

Morristown Airport is actually in Hannover. Morristown acquired the Columbia Meadows property when purchasing a nearby aqueduct in the 1930s, and Morristown retains primary policing and firefighting responsibility there.

Although city taxpayers do not bear the costs of operating the airport, the board remains the sponsor of the airport’s grant applications to the Federal Aviation Administration and the state Department of Transportation.

When Morristown secured the site, it was envisioned as a terminal for transatlantic airship service To Germany. The Hindenburg explosion over Lakehurst doomed this industry.

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