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Jackson zoners deny density variance for proposed 48-home development

JACKSON — Five members of the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment have voted to deny an application that sought a density variance related to a property at 443 Leesville Road between Burke and Diamond roads in Jackson.

At the conclusion of a four-hour meeting on Aug. 3, a motion was made to deny the application submitted by Bellevue Estates, LLC, of Lakewood.

The density variance application represented the first step in the applicant’s proposal to construct 48 homes, primarily on lots of less than a half-acre, on a property where 10 homes on 3-acre lots are currently permitted to be built.

Voting “yes” on the motion to deny the density variance were zoning board members Lynne Bradley, Jeanine Fritch, Steve Costanzo, Samara O’Neill and James Hurley.

Voting “no” on the motion was John Spalthoff.

The board’s denial of the density variance on a tract where a residential use is permitted is expected to result in the applicant, Mordechai Eichorn, appearing before the Jackson Planning Board on Aug. 15 to present an application to construct four private schools on the same 31-acre Leesville Road property.

Attorney Donna Jennings, who represents Eichorn, said schools are a permitted use on the Leesville Road property and she said the application that is expected to be presented to the Planning Board is in full compliance with Jackson’s development standards.

During the Aug. 3 zoning board meeting, representatives of Bellevue Estates – engineer William Stevens, planner Andrew Janiw and traffic engineer John Rea – attempted to make the case that even though Eichorn was seeking to build more homes than what is permitted on the property, the proposal was not out of character in an area of Jackson that contains residential uses.

Stevens provided details about the property, noting that the required lot size is 130,000 square feet (i.e., 3 acres) and explaining that some of the lots in the proposed development would be 17,000 square feet (i.e., less than a half-acre).

The developer would be required to present various models of homes to be constructed, and the homes could be more than 4,000 square feet in size and contain as many as eight bedrooms, according to the testimony.

Specific plans for the homes had not been developed, pending the outcome of the developer’s request for the density variance.

The homes would not have been serviced by public water and public sewer and time was spent discussing how waste from the 48 homes might be treated. Residents who live near the site who spoke later in the meeting questioned how the new homes’ septic systems would affect their wells.

Some board members indicated they would not be comfortable voting on an application without having specific information about the homes, although that information was not required as of Aug. 3 because of the manner in which the applicant was initially seeking only the density variance.

Had the density variance been granted, the applicant would have returned at a later date to seek subdivision approval with a fully engineered plan under what is known as a bifurcated application process, according to the testimony.

Rea provided information regarding the number of vehicles at the location in a comparison of the residential use and the possible use of the tract for four private schools.

There are expected to be about 2,800 students at the four private schools that would operate 12 months of the year, plus staff members, according to the testimony.

The students would be expected to be brought to the site in a combination of buses and parent drop-offs. At dismissal, students would leave the site in a combination of buses and parent pick-ups.

Rea said that during the morning peak hour, the schools would generate 1,130 total trips (in and out movements on Leesville Road) and the 48 homes would generate 34 total trips.

In the afternoon peak hour, the schools would generate 540 total trips (in and out movements on Leesville Road) and the 48 homes would generate 45 total trips.

Rea said the morning peak hour would likely coincide with other commuters traveling on Leesville Road. The afternoon peak hour would likely not coincide with as many commuter movements.

During his testimony, Janiw explained the positive and negative criteria an applicant has to satisfy to be granted a variance from municipal standards.

He noted that a residential use is permitted at 443 Leesville Road and said that is the type of use being proposed by Bellevue Estates, albeit with a greater density (48 homes proposed where 10 homes are permitted).

“We believe we are creating a betting zoning alternative” with homes than with schools, Janiw said. “The impact on the neighborhood will be substantially less” with homes than the impact would be with the schools.

After two hours of testimony from the applicant’s professionals, the meeting was opened to public comment.

While some residents had questions about specific details of the plan, such as setbacks, buffer areas and the treatment of waste, most of the residents who spoke expressed support for having homes and not schools at the location.

Donna Tuminaro said, “I am pleased homes are being proposed as opposed to schools,” but she called 48 homes “an exorbitant number of homes” and asked for a compromise that would reduce the number of homes.

Susan Cooper said she was “grateful” homes could replace schools, but added, “five times the legal amount (of homes at the site) is asking a lot of the people in the area. This does not fit in with anything nearby. It looks like a compound.”

Lisa Zayac said, “Nobody has an issue with homes (on the property), but 48 is too many homes. We have zoning laws for a reason. … (This plan) won’t improve our quality of life. I am worried about our wells and septics.”

After the public comment portion of the meeting was closed, Jennings asked if Eichorn could address the board. Eichorn came forward and identified himself as the managing member of Bellevue Estates, LLC.

Eichorn said the plan to build 48 homes at 443 Leesville Road was not his idea. He explained he is the developer of three other private schools on Leesville Road (near a QuickChek convenience store) that have received approval from the Planning Board.

Eichorn said that during the public hearings before the Planning Board regarding those three private schools, residents approached him and asked him to reconsider his plan to build four private schools at 443 Leesville Road.

“My plan for the four private schools (at 443 Leesville Road) is fully compliant, but I asked my professionals to come up with a residential plan” at that location in response to the residents’ requests, he said.

Eichorn acknowledged he was attempting to maximize the number of homes on the 31-acre tract and said proposing homes instead of schools “was a compromise on my part. I would make a lot more money building four schools on 5-acre to 7-acre lots.”

He said the application for 48 homes was the compromise and was not a threat to the community.

Eichorn said that during the next five to seven years, Jackson may see requests for 60 to 70 new private schools.

Board members discussed Bellevue Estates’ request for the density variance. Some members said they believed a vote to approve the density variance would amount to rezoning the property, which falls under the purview of the Township Council.

Shortly after 11 p.m., a motion was made to deny the density variance application and subsequently approved in the 5-1 vote.

A recent Planning Board agenda indicated the Bellevue Estates, LLC, proposal to construct four private schools at 443 Leesville Road (a permitted use) was scheduled to be heard by the board on Aug. 15.

As of Aug. 4, the Aug. 15 meeting agenda had not been posted on the municipal website.

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