A Special Report from Mayor Wilson on the Redevelopment of the Abbey
Dear Morris Township Residents:

This last month has been a time of extraordinary challenge and has been life-altering for all of us. While managing this situation has been – and remains – a TOP priority for everyone in our community, there are some other important issues that merit our attention. One in particular is the redevelopment of the Abbey/Alnwick Hall, the landmark estate on Madison Ave.

Given the interest in what’s going on with this property, I’ve decided to issue this special report so residents have clear information about this situation even while there are so many other critical demands on our time and attention.

The regular monthly mayor’s report recapping March, including an update on the pandemic, will be sent to you soon. In the meantime, it’s vital for all of us to STAY HOME as much as possible, practice strict social distancing when we do go out, and wash our hands frequently.

The Redevelopment Plan for the Abbey – Past Context and Next Steps
The Abbey has been vacant for years. It’s a beautiful, historic structure that many people (including me) would love to preserve and repurpose. Doing so is easier said than done. Several attempts over the years have failed.

Here’s what happened at our 3/18 Township Committee (TC) meeting re: the Abbey:
We formally introduced the Redevelopment Plan that our planner and his staff have prepared for the Abbey. This Redevelopment Plan is now an official public document. You can access it here.
Key next steps going forward:

  • Every resident who is interested in what’s going to happen on this site now has time to read this plan carefully; discuss it with others; and identify your questions, comments, and concerns. I encourage all residents to do that.

  • The next official step is this plan will go before the Planning Board (PB) for review. The PB’s main job is to review it for consistency with our Master Plan. Discussion of this plan among PB members will occur at this meeting. A public hearing is not legally required as part of this PB review. During the Public Comment portion of this meeting, residents may offer any comments they wish, but questions regarding the Abbey are limited to those that pertain to the Redevelopment Plan’s consistency with the Master Plan.
  • This PB meeting is scheduled for next Monday, April 6th at 7:30 PM. Information about how to participate via remote access will be forthcoming.

  •  After the PB review, the next step is to hold a Special Township Committee Meeting/Public Hearing JUST on the Abbey. This meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 29th.
  • The focus of the Special Meeting is public input. This is the opportunity for residents to formally share “on the record” any questions or comments you may have. 
  • While it is legally possible for a vote on the Redevelopment Plan to occur at this Special Meeting, it is also possible that the vote could be postponed to a future meeting – such as the next TC meeting. Doing so would require a motion and majority support from TC members.

  • IMPORTANT CAVEAT RE: THESE APRIL MEETINGS: Given the uncertainties of present circumstances AND the need to ensure live, two-way, remote-access capability, it’s possible that one or both of these meetings may need to be postponed and re-scheduled. More information will be provided in the days ahead on the Township’s Municipal Messenger email as well as on our website and Facebook page.
A few additional points it’s important for residents to understand:

  • The Redevelopment Plan lays out conditions and requirements that are specifically tailored to the Abbey property.
  • The vote on whether to approve the Redevelopment Plan (or some variation of what has been proposed) is done by the Township Committee - NOT one of our land use boards.
  • If a Redevelopment Plan is approved, the next step will be for a site plan to be developed.
  • The site plan would be heard – and voted on – by the Planning Board, NOT the Township Committee.
  • The site-plan process would likely take several meetings and would include many opportunities for questions and comments from the public.
A few points of info on the redevelopment process in general:

  •  “Redevelopment” is a separate and unique land-use category that’s reserved for special circumstances – such as the Abbey presents. 
  • The process of working with Redevelopment sites carries its own set of legal requirements.
  • The first step in working with the redevelopment process is to determine whether the site meets the legal requirements to qualify as “an area in need of redevelopment.”(AINR) This determination is made by completing a Redevelopment Study. Completing a Redevelopment Study is a legal process that is carried out under the auspices of our professional planner working in conjunction with our Planning Board.
  • The AINR study of the Abbey was completed in September 2018. This document is essential reading (or at least scanning) for anyone who wants to understand what is going on with this property.
  • The bottom-line outcome of this AINR study was a determination that the Abbey DOES MEET the legal criteria for qualifying as “an area in need of redevelopment.” 
  • Once a AINR study has been completed, and it’s determined that a site qualifies as an area in need of redevelopment, the next step is the creation of a REDEVELOPMENT PLAN.
  • That brings us to where we are now in the process of working with the Abbey.
  •  I encourage all of us to reflect on how we can work together going forward to make decisions about this historic property that will serve the best interest of our community. 

Cathy Wilson
Mayor, Morris Township