JACKSON – Testimony regarding an applicant’s plan to construct three private schools on a 13.5-acre tract on Leesville Road is expected to continue on May 16 before the Jackson Planning Board.
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.
Initial testimony regarding the application was presented during a meeting in November and continued before the Planning Board on April 4.
Board Chairman Robert Hudak, Vice Chairman Leonard Haring Jr. and board members Michele Campbell, Jeff Riker, Jackson Business Administrator Terence Wall, Township Councilman Martin Flemming, Joseph Riccardi, Timothy Dolan, Mordechai Burnstein, Tzvi Herman and Noah Canderozzi listened to testimony presented by representatives of the applicant and comments from members of the public for more than three hours.
The board’s professionals, attorney Sean Gertner, engineer Doug Klee and planner Ernie Peters, asked questions of the applicant at various points during the public hearing at the Jackson municipal building.
The applicant is represented by attorney Donna Jennings. Planner Ian Borden, traffic engineer John Rea, and Mordechai Eichorn, the managing member of Lees Village, LLC, presented information regarding the application during the meeting.
Jennings has previously said the application does not require any variances from the municipal code.
Borden reiterated his previous testimony during which he said 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.
Eichorn testified that Lees Village, LLC, is a for-profit business venture that will own the buildings and seek tenants to lease the space. He said the tenants could be for-profit schools or nonprofit schools.
Each school will educate boys or girls, but the buildings will not be co-educational. Because no tenants have been signed, Eichorn could not specify how the schools would be occupied.
Depending on the tenants, the schools could operate for the entire year. A boys high school would be closed for three weeks in the late summer, Eichorn said.
Regarding the proposed development, Eichorn said, “There is a demand for a girls elementary school and a demand for a girls high school. There is a demand for a boys elementary school and for a boys high school. (Who the tenants are) comes down to who would pay the most money.”
Borden has acknowledged there are public schools across the road; the Switlik School on West Veterans Highway and Jackson Memorial High School on Don Connor Boulevard, both of which have bus traffic. He testified that the three private schools would have staggered start and end times.
The school times Borden provided on April 4 have been revised from the times he presented during the initial hearing in November.
Under the current proposal, pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade would attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pupils in grades six through eight would attend school from 7:40 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Students in grades nine and 10 would attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Students in grades 11 and 12 would attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Meals for the students would be delivered to the schools on a daily basis, Borden said.
Dolan called the 14-hour schedule for students in the 11th and 12th grades “a tough day,” to which Jennings responded, “The parents are well aware of what the times are. They want their children in school.”
Borden testified that the schools will not have showers, that the gymnasiums will not have bleachers, that no rental of the schools by outside groups would be permitted and that no public performances will be offered in the buildings.
An access drive from Leesville Road into the property is proposed, in addition to interior loop roads. An emergency access road to and from Leesville Road is also proposed.
The applicant has designed the site with separate areas where buses will drop off children and where parents who drive their children to school will drop them off, according to the testimony.
Riker expressed concern there could be conflicts regarding children walking from the area where they have been dropped off by their parents across the lane that has been designated for school buses.
The applicant’s representatives estimated that about 5% of the children who attend each school could be dropped off at their school each day (i.e., 30 children dropped off at each of the two elementary schools and 13 children dropped off at the high school).
“I’m not well-subscribed that one entrance is enough to get people in and out” of the site, Riker said.
The intersection of Leesville Road and Veterans Highway was a source of concern for the board members.
Rea previously testified that at the driveway to the school site on Leesville Road, the applicant will require a southbound left turn lane for Leesville Road traffic turning left into the site, and 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 testified in November.
At that time, he said improvements will also be required at a traffic signal at Veterans Highway.
During his testimony on April 4, Rea reiterated the applicant’s plan to make the road improvements.
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.
Hudak opened the hearing to public comment shortly after 10 p.m. None of the residents who commented on or asked questions about the application – several of whom identified themselves as educators – objected to having additional schools in Jackson.
Some residents who spoke questioned and/or objected to the proposed location of three schools on Leesville Road, which they said is a busy street.
Regarding the impact on Leesville Road, Susan Cooper said, “This is going to be insane. It’s going to be absolute chaos. We (people living off Leesville Road) are not going to be able to get out of our streets. This (application) is going to adversely affect the residents of Leesville Road and surrounding areas. This (proposal) does not belong on a residential street.”
Dawn Slay said, “All children deserve an education (but) I am voicing strong opposition to the location of these schools. Please take the residents who live on Leesville Road into consideration.”
Maria Amador expressed concern about noise from buses that would be transporting the high school students home when their school day ends at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
No decision on the Lees Village application was reached by the board members on April 4. The application was carried to the Planning Board meeting scheduled for May 16.