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Jackson planners hear proposal for four private schools on Leesville Road tract

JACKSON — Testimony is expected to resume at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Jackson Planning Board on an applicant’s proposal to construct four private schools at 443 Leesville Road.

Bellevue Estates, LLC, of Lakewood, is seeking municipal approval to construct three private elementary schools, one private high school and a gymnasium at the 32-acre property.

The applicant is seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval and preliminary and final major subdivision approval of one lot into four lots.

Testimony on the application was heard during the board’s Oct. 3 meeting. Representatives of Bellevue Estates described the plan that calls for the construction of four schools and residents had an opportunity to comment during a hearing that ran three hours.

Bellevue Estates is represented by attorney Donna Jennings.

The board’s engineer, Doug Klee, said all four proposed lots conform to the R-3 zoning that is in place on the property, and the board’s planner, Ernie Peters, said public schools are a permitted use in the R-3 zone. The R-3 zoning requires a minimum lot size of 3 acres.

“There is no distinction between nonprofit public and private schools,” Peters said.

Planner Ian Borden provided details of the application. He said 443 Leesville Road is between Burke and Diamond roads. Quaker Hill Road is directly across from where the four private schools are being proposed.

The property is surrounded by residential uses on half-acre and 1-acre lots. Borden said wetlands on the northern edge of the development site will be protected by a buffer zone. Each lot created by the subdivision of the 32-acre tract would conform to the 3-acre zone requirement, he said.

“We are proposing to widen Leesville Road in accordance with Ocean County standards,” Borden said, noting that Leesville Road is a county road.

Testimony provided by the applicant’s representatives indicated each school would operate on a private well and septic system, which led Klee to say, “I am concerned about the impact of (the wells and septic systems) on the adjoining properties’ septic systems and wells.”

Jennings said the water and septic issues are not within the Planning Board’s purview and said the applicant would be required to obtain outside agency approvals, including approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, for those aspects of the application.

The issue of the schools’ wells and septic systems was mentioned later by residents who commented on the application and eventually led Township Administrator Terence Wall, who sits on the board, to suggest that the panel hire its own water management professional to examine the Bellevue Estates application.

The Planning Board members unanimously approved Wall’s suggestion to hire a water management expert to examine the application and report back on the proposed wells and septic systems.

Testimony indicated each of the four schools would have a separate owner. Borden said each of the three elementary schools would be able to accommodate 750 pupils, while the high school would be able to accommodate 600 pupils.

The applicant estimated 5% of the pupils attending each school would be dropped off and picked up at the school by their parents, with the remaining 95% of the pupils being bused to and from the site.

The four schools would have staggered operating times, with high school classes for ninth and 10th grade pupils ending at 8:30 p.m., and classes for 11th and 12th grade pupils ending at 9:30 p.m., according to Borden’s presentation.

No students would be permitted to drive to the high school. The schools would operate six days per week and 12 months per year, according to Borden.

The meeting was opened to public comment at 9:40 p.m.

Resident Donna Tuminaro called the Bellevue Estates application “a ludicrous proposal” and said she was concerned with the applicant’s plan for septic fields and with the possible contamination of nearby wells.

“I want to be assured of my health, my safety and my well-being,” Tuminaro said.

Addressing the Planning Board members, she added, “Your responsibility is to everyone in this town.”

Robert Hudak, the board’s chairman, explained that people have the right to build on properties within the confines of the law.

Resident Susan Cooper said she has been a teacher for 29 years and said she believes more than 5% of each school’s pupils will be dropped off and picked up each day.

“Traffic will be especially disastrous to those of us living there. … This is going to be catastrophic to the quality of life of every person there,” she said.

Resident Brian Smith expressed concern about the school site only having access from Leesville Road and about the impact of the development on neighboring wells.

Resident Jason Glushko asked if the applicant could bring public utilities to the property.

Borden said public utilities are not close to the site and he said the property is not in a sewer service area.

Public comment concluded at 10:45 p.m. Jennings said some revisions to the application could be made prior to the next hearing date.

The Bellevue Estates application was carried to the Planning Board’s Dec. 12 meeting, to be held in the Jackson municipal building.

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