You can’t drive golf balls on the historic Morristown Green.
But soon you may tee off across the street — and then grab a bite from a menu prepared by “Top Chef” David Burke.
The town planning board on Thursday approved a golf-themed restaurant for the ground floor of the 1776 On the Green building at 67 Park Place East.
Burke, who has been featured on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, will operate the restaurant, project partner Chance Healy of Long Valley told the board, which approved the application by a 5-0 vote via Zoom.
“I think it will bring more people into Morristown,” said board Chairman Joe Stanley.
Together with improvements finally coming to the adjacent plaza known as Pioneer Park, the restaurant should help the flagging Headquarters Plaza area “turn the corner,” he said.
Mayor Tim Dougherty hailed the project as a “great concept.”
“It’s going to fit well in Morristown,” Dougherty said, praising Princeton architect Robert Blaser’s “beautiful design” and predicting golfers in his family would be spending winter time in the simulators.
Project attorney Peter Wolfson forecasted a “much needed boost of energy” for Morristown. Not everyone agreed, however.
Comparing other Topgolf venues to an “Atlantic City casino” and a carnival, two objectors emailed concerns for the downtown’s charm and character.
Allowing a bar next to the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, a house of worship predating the American Revolution, sets a bad precedent, wrote Ruben Porrata of Morristown.
“I don’t think this is what the founding members of the church had in mind when they donated the Green to the town,” Porrata said.
But the church raised no objections, and board Engineer Charles Carley said comparisons to Topgolf on Route 1 in Edison miss the mark.
“They’re two wildly different facilities,” Carley said, contrasting the Morristown project as “more upscale, subdued.”
Accordion-style doors that open to outdoor tables, beneath awnings with “very tastefully” designed signage, are “exactly what is needed” in this era of COVID restrictions, said board member Debra Gottsleben.
“I think the idea of having outdoor dining near the Green is exactly what I would like to see around the Green, some vibrancy,” Gottsleben said.
Motown Restaurants LLC, as the venture is called, will lease 10,893 square feet of space that formerly housed NJ.com. Plans list a 34-seat bar, 50 seats in the hour-rental simulator suites, 234 restaurant seats indoors, and 225 more outside.
Valet parking is envisioned. Town zoning requires 443 spaces; look for them in the Headquarters Plaza garage. The restaurant has obtained a liquor license.
Healy’s partner is George L. Schneider of Morristown.
In other business, the board heard a third night of testimony about the fate of a building on the other side of the Green.
Town Planner Phil Abramson defended his recommendation to earmark a vacant, neglected Washington Street office complex for redevelopment, even if the town must seize the property via condemnation.
“We don’t need to wait for somebody to be hit in the head with a brick or worse for this building to be considered detrimental,” Abramson said, describing three conjoined structures at the Bank Street intersection as “an accident waiting to happen.”
Crumbling exteriors, moldy ceilings, pigeon poop, and a “tortured design” from the 19th century that precludes handicapped access add up to “an affront to the morals and welfare of the community,” he said, showing photos of dilapidation and citing evidence the site has sat dormant for a decade.
Penobscot Management LLC of Teaneck bought the former home of law firm Schenck Price for $6.3 million in 2010.
Attorney Michael Ash, representing Penobscot, intended to present a pair of witnesses to rebut the planner. But by then the virtual meeting had run for nearly three-and-a-half hours. That was long enough for Stanley, the board chairman. Ash will get another chance on Dec. 3, 2020.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover on image for captions: