Council to Hear Hatikvah Challenge Again in January
The Township Council heard arguments Monday regarding a variance granted to the Hatikvah school over the summer.
The Township Council might be leaning toward asking the Zoning Board of Adjustment to review a use variance it granted the Hatkivah International Academy Charter School in July.
“If you want to infer that, you certainly can,” said Council President Michael Hughes.
On Monday, the Township Council heard a challenge regarding a variance granted to the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School. The variance was granted unanimously in July by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and allows the school to renovate a warehouse into a school. The building, 7 Lexington Ave., is located in a planned industrial zone and a variance is needed to open a school in the zone. The warehouse is surrounded by similar warehouses, including Vending Trucks Inc.
On Aug. 20, residents Deborah Cornavaca and Christine Rampolla filed an appeal of the variance, stating, among other reasons, that the variance should not have been granted because “there was a conflict of interest,” and that “the board did not permit a complete record to be made.”
The hearing got heated a few times, with some audience members shouting that the council was prejudice, and one woman leaving the meeting room afterwards giving the council members a thumbs down.
But in the end, council members said they didn’t hear enough to make a decision, and will meet on Jan. 14, at 8 p.m., to continue deliberations. Before the decision was made, Hughes and Lawrence Sachs, attorney for Hatkivah, had an exchange in which Sachs complained about how the hearings had been handled. Hughes responded by reminding him that Hatkivah is several months behind on a deadline to address another zoning matter at its current site. He said the township has been patient with the school in that matter and that the school should be patient with the township regarding this issue.
During the hearing, the council had four options: to uphold the zoning board’s decision; reject it; to say there isn’t enough information to make a decision; or to send the plan back to the zoning board, telling them that it needs to be looked at again.
“During the course of the hearing I don’t think we were satisfied that a school should be there,” said Hughes. “If we felt a school should be there, we would have done something.”
Among some of the questions and concerns brought up by council members were whether or not the variance and a school would make it difficult for existing businesses to expand. Hughes said that if one of the industrial sites wants to expand, it would be difficult to approve that expansion with a school nearby.
Council members were also concerned that the concerns of residents (Rampone and Cornavaca) who spoke out against the variance were not considered at the time; and that school expansion process was not public enough. They also were concerned with a perceived conflict of interest. Hatkivah was represented by Sachs, who also represents the township in the role of Planning Board Attorney.
During the hearing, Sachs, representing Hatikvah, said the “objectors” did not offer a strong enough argument to have the decision overturned.
“The objectors haven’t provided any objective facts,” he said. “The mere fact that you don’t like the area, or that the charter school is a want, not a need” isn’t reason enough to turn the decision over.
He also said that Hatkivah met all of its obligations, including 59 of 62 additional requirements imposed on it by the township.
This story will be updated. Check back for more details.