JACKSON – In a 9-0 vote, the members of the Jackson Planning Board have granted preliminary major site plan approval to an applicant who has proposed constructing three private schools on a 13.5-acre tract on Leesville Road.
The preliminary approval was granted during a meeting on May 16 after representatives of the applicant, Lees Village, LLC, clarified several issues that had previously been discussed during a meeting on April 4.
Lees Village is proposing to build two two-story elementary schools and one two-story high school at 31 Leesville Road in a Neighborhood Commercial zone. The applicant was initially seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval from the board.
At the start of the May 16 meeting, attorney Donna Jennings, who represents the applicant, agreed with a request by the board to only seek preliminary approval at this time and to return at a later date to seek final approval when more specific information regarding the buildings’ tenants is expected to be available.
Planning Board Chairman Robert Hudak thanked Jennings for agreeing to split the application into a preliminary approval and a final approval.
When the evening’s testimony began, Jennings called on planner Ian Borden to discuss changes the applicant made to the plan since the application was before the board in April.
Borden described the revisions and changes as follows:
• Instead of having one trash enclosure on the site to serve all three schools, the applicant will place a trash enclosure at each school;
• Landscaping has been added in the area of an emergency access road at the rear of the site. The emergency access road is near a neighboring residential property and the resident on that property requested additional buffering;
• Side doors have been added at each school to accommodate deliveries, so deliveries will not occur at each school’s front door;
• Traffic circulation and road striping details have been added to the plan.
Traffic engineer John Rea reviewed plans for Leesville Road, which is under the jurisdiction of Ocean County.
Rea said Leesville Road is proposed to be widened; a full left turn lane will permit vehicles to enter the school property while a second lane permits other vehicles to pass the turning vehicle safely and continue traveling on Leesville Road; and a lane for right turns into the school property from Leesville Road will be created.
Rea said all of the proposals for Leesville Road will be subject to Ocean County approval.
Borden told the Tri-Town News the Planning Board’s preliminary approval of the application will allow the applicant to meet with Ocean County representatives to seek specific county approvals.
Board member Michele Campbell expressed concern the proposed lane that will permit vehicles to turn right into the school property could become a location where vehicles stop or stack up.
Rea said the Township Council could adopt an ordinance which would create a no stopping and no standing regulation on Leesville Road to ensure that the issue Campbell raised would not occur.
When the meeting was opened to public comments, several residents addressed the board and the applicant.
Dawn Slay of Leesville Road expressed concern about additional vehicles using Leesville Road and traveling through the nearby intersection of Leesville Road and Veterans Highway.
Slay expressed support for the no stopping and no standing regulation on Leesville Road that had been discussed several minutes earlier by Rea and Campbell.
Lisa Zayac of Diamond Road discussed the pending application and said, “I want the Planning Board members to consider this question: ‘Do you think this (application) is a good thing for our town?’ Please think about the effect of this (project) on our town. I would like you to seriously consider that. It’s not advantageous.”
John Cossentino of Park Avenue addressed the board members and said, “Please think about what you are doing. When are you going to call it (development) quits? I would give that some serious thought.”
Following the comments from residents, Sean Gertner, the board’s attorney, said, “This (application for three schools) is a permitted use in the (Neighborhood Commercial) zone. The Planning Board follows what the Township Council laid out.”
Gertner said there was not enough detail regarding a number of issues for the board to grant final approval at this time. By only granting preliminary approval, “that is a level of protection to the public,” he said.
In her summation, Jennings said the proposed private schools are a permitted use in the zone and that the applicant has presented a fully conforming application.
The attorney quoted state law which she said states, “the Planning Board shall approve (the application) if the application is fully conforming.”
“The applicant (Mordechai Eichorn) owns the property and he has listened to the public. We added a secondary access (to the site), we revised the loop road design, we created a separate bus drop-off lane and a separate parent drop-off lane, we added additional buffering and we added side doors for deliveries. (Eichorn) wants a project that is safe and compliant,” Jennings said.
Doug Klee, the board’s engineer, said if and when the applicant returns to seek final approval, there will be more information available about certain aspects of the plan (i.e., the final design for Leesville Road and the tenants for the three schools).
A motion was made to grant the Lees Village application preliminary approval and the board members voted 9-0 to grant the approval.
Jennings thanked the board members on behalf of her client.
Previous testimony indicated the Lees Village application did not require any variances from Jackson’s municipal code; that the proposal calls for the construction of 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 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.
The site where the three private schools are proposed is near two public schools: the Switlik School on West Veterans Highway and Jackson Memorial High School on Don Connor Boulevard.