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Jackson planners consider proposal for three private schools

JACKSON – Initial testimony has been presented to the members of the Jackson Planning Board by representatives of an applicant that is seeking municipal approval to construct three private schools on a 13.5-acre tract on Leesville Road.

The applicant, Lees Village, LLC, is proposing to build two two-story elementary schools and one two-story high school at 31 Leesville Road in a Neighborhood Commercial zone. Lees Village, LLC, is seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval from the board.

Representatives of the applicant appeared before the board on Nov. 15. No decision was reached that evening and the application was carried to the board’s Dec. 20 meeting.

The applicant was represented by attorney Donna Jennings, of the firm Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer. Planner Ian Borden, traffic engineer John Rea, engineer Bill Stephens and architect Brian Flaherty are expected to testify on behalf of the applicant.

Jennings said the application does not require any variances. In remarks to the board before calling her first witness, she said, “the law is very clear; a municipality may not discriminate against a private school if a public school is permitted.”

Jennings called on Borden to describe the property where the applicant is proposing to construct the three private schools.

Borden said the property is developed with two single-family homes and associated buildings in the front area and said the rear portion of the site is undeveloped. The Toms River is off the property and no development is planned near the waterway.

The applicant is proposing to construct three private schools; two elementary schools each with a maximum capacity of 600 students, and a high school with a maximum capacity of 255 students.

An access drive from Leesville Road is proposed, in addition to interior loop roads. Borden said all of the the proposed roads at the site would be able to accommodate buses and emergency vehicles. An emergency access to Leesville Road is also proposed.

“We are aware there are public schools across the road; the Switlik School and Jackson Memorial High School, both of which have bus traffic,” Borden said, adding that the three private schools would have staggered start and end times.

“The K-3 elementary school will begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. (The school for) grades 4 and up will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. … The high school will begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.,” Borden said.

High school students will not be permitted to drive to the school. Borden said each elementary school requires 75 parking spaces and the high school requires 85 parking spaces. The applicant is proposing to provide 85 parking spaces at each school.

The next witness to testify was Rea, who said he visited the site and that his office prepared a traffic impact analysis of the proposal.

Rea said traffic counts were conducted on Leesville Road and on Veterans Highway, and turning counts were conducted at the intersection of Leesville Road, Veterans Highway and Don Connor Boulevard at times when the schools would be active.

“We found that the 2018 and 2019 counts were actually a little bit higher than the 2021 counts, so we used them as a basis for going forward with the traffic study because they were higher than the 2021 counts, but we also included a background traffic growth rate,” Rea said.

The traffic study associated with the proposed private schools takes into account a nearby mixed use project that has received municipal approval. The mixed use Port-Cohn project will have 202 residential units and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

Rea said the applicant proposing the private schools has identified improvements that will be required to ensure the driveway on Leesville Road operates safely and efficiently.

“At our driveway access to Leesville Road, we will require a southbound left turn lane for Leesville Road traffic turning left into the site, and we will require a northbound right turn lane for traffic turning right coming up from the signal by the Quick Check at Don Connor Boulevard.

“We are going to need to widen Leesville Road to provide the separate left and right turn lanes to get into our property, and to have traffic discharge from our property safely and efficiently,” Rea said.

He said improvements will also be required at a traffic signal at Veterans Highway.

“First, we are going to have to add an advanced southbound left turn phase for traffic turning left from Leesville Road onto eastbound Veterans Highway.

“We are going to be adding traffic to that approach, in particular, we are going to be adding a substantial number of left turns; a lot of them will be made by school buses (and) that has been factored into the analysis.

“We are going to have to modify the signal to include a southbound advance left turn phase at the intersection,” Rea said.

The applicant is proposing the additional improvement of a northbound right turn lane on Don Connor Boulevard for traffic heading north, coming from Jackson Memorial High School, and heading east on Veterans Highway.

“With those improvements, the off-site intersection will operate at acceptable levels of service during our peak hours, and our driveway will operate at an acceptable level of service,” Rea said.

Some residents who spoke during the meeting asked questions about and criticized the increase in the number of vehicles in this area of Jackson and the impact on the quality of life the proposed project would bring to an area that is already busy.

The application was carried to Dec. 20 when additional testimony regarding the plan is expected to be presented.

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