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Council Should Overturn Hatikvah Variance

Writer says the proposal "violates both negative criteria used for granting the use variance."

Dear Editor,

The East Brunswick Township Council should overturn the use variance granted by the Zoning Board to Hatikvah Charter School that would allow it to relocate to a warehouse in an industrial zone.  The school violates both negative criteria used for granting the use variance.

  1. Will the proposed use impair the intent of the zoning ordinance?   Yes!

The township will lose 55,000 square feet of warehouse space if the school occupies 7 Lexington Court.  The warehouse is located in an area zoned for industrial use owned, until August 2013, by Plumrose USA, a meat manufacturer with production facilities in Mississippi, Indiana, Vermont and Iowa that used the warehouse to distribute its products in our region.  Industrial property generates tax revenues that help relieve the tax burden on EB tax-paying residents.  The township received over $80,000 in tax revenues until the sale to the Eisenrich Family Foundation, which leases the building to “Friends of Hatikvah” which, sub-leases to Hatikvah Charter School.  With this transaction, the township loses annual revenue because public schools are tax exempt. 

    2. Will the proposed use be a detriment to the public good?  Yes!

Locating a public school in an industrial zone threatens child safety.  Trucks and other vehicles move through the zone as activity appropriate to the zone. Trucks use the same routes that school buses and parents would use to drop off and pick up children at the school posing a safety risk to the children.  The industrial park does not have a grassy area for a playground.   Although the school plans to rip up blacktop to create a playground, no soil testing has taken place yet.  Isn’t it possible, indeed likely, that hazardous materials exist in soils of an industrial zone?   Furthermore, the proposed playground will be located adjacent to another tenant where food trucks are repaired.  Although noise, gas fumes, and other environmental insults legally occur in an industrial zone, these are not an appropriate environment for a child’s playground.  Environmental standards differ by intended land use.  Standards for industrial zones are less stringent than for residential, recreational and school zones for obvious reasons.  Regulations applied to this EB industrial zone are appropriate for anticipated industrial use, not designed to protect elementary school children. 

Answers promised by the applicant to a multitude of questions posed by the Zoning Board were not forthcoming. The use variance approved by the Zoning Board has 63 conditions begging the question of how complete the school’s application actually is.  The two-phase approval, requiring the school to come back before the Zoning Board in two years, means that half of the building will remain a warehouse and not undergo renovation or environmental testing until two years after students already occupy the building.  This does nothing to protect the health of children who have been exposed to potentially harmful environmental conditions for two years.  Testing should be done before occupancy.

If the council bows to this special interest group by upholding the use variance, the township could be placed in legal jeopardy.  Who will be responsible if a child is run over by a truck or becomes ill from adverse environmental conditions?

Nona Henderson

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EB since 76 January 08, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Lastly, the public needs to understand better who the objectors are. Christine Rampolla is a union activist who works for the NJ AFTNJ -AFL/CIO. Google it. She has motives to close the school and is using the guise of public safety as her shield. She tells everyone she is a stay at home and the school are a bunch of bullies. She has the roles reversed. Hatikvah is nurturing and educating their children and she is around every corner throwing road blocks in the way. Had the school chosen any location in town other than Lexington Avenue, she would have objected to that as well. I've been in town for so many years, and can say that her actions represent the worst this town has to offer. It is truly unfortunate that one person would make it their personal mission to disrupt the education of 200 young children, all who are unaware of what's going on. Children that have formed friendships and are learning. If the parents like the location, then what is her personal stake?
EB since 76 January 08, 2013 at 02:19 PM
One more note, according to the record, the school must return to the board in two years to evaluate the possibility of providing more bus parking and/or car parking. No to commence more testing. What's so terrible about that?
EBtalloaks January 08, 2013 at 02:31 PM
The author concludes her letter by calling the charter school a "special interest group," while the State of New Jersey Department of Education defines a charter school as "a public school that operates as its own Local Education Agency under a charter granted by the Commissioner [of Education]." I understand that this is an opinion piece and not a statement of facts, but the author could show the State-approved charter school a modicum of the respect it deserves as an established learning institution for hundreds of children.
EBtalloaks January 08, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I disagree with the "facts" presented by the author, but I give her a lot of credit for at least sticking to the issue at hand (the zoning variance) and not engaging in discussions of whether or not the charter school deserves to exist.
EB since 76 January 08, 2013 at 02:36 PM
This is an existing school. The proposal is not for a new school. The school is here and has been for years. As voters we should all scrutinize the council members and watch closely how they make their decision. But since Councilwoman Ferraro and Hughes have been quoted in the Sentinel as being anti-charter schools, I do not see how they could vote on this issue, while following the guidelines provided by their lawyer. Michael Hughes was on the board of education, the same board that was in litigation with the school. But, I'm sure he's "unbiased". One more note: all while this is going on, the EBHS dropped 50 spots on the NJ list of best high schools. It is now #121. I don't recall a press release from the BOE about this. As a taxpayer I think we are owed some explanation as to why the rankings keep falling and our taxes keep rising. Blue Ribbon was awarded to the high school in 1990! Over 20 years ago. How come not since then?? Maybe Christine and Deborah could investigate?!
EBtalloaks January 08, 2013 at 02:45 PM
The author's sensationalistic closing ("Who will be responsible if a child is run over by a truck or becomes ill from adverse environmental conditions?") can not be taken seriously. Who will be responsible in the case of any vehicular/pedestrian crash or environmental illness at/near any other school? The charter school has provided testimony from acknowledged traffic engineering experts that the site plan is safe; the school is conducting environmental testing; and the school has received approval from every engineer, planner, and police/fire official who reviewed and signed-off on the plans. Residents are entitled to their opinions and observations about traffic safety, but that doesn't make them experts...Not in the eyes of the law, and not in the eyes of zoning/planning commissions.
Here since '95 - where's my medal? January 08, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Dear Mr. Sachs, For someone on the township payroll, you really should be a little more respectful of residents who pay your salary. I’ve seen you play fast and loose with the facts. In particular, it was embarrassing to watch you lie to the town council, only to have the clerk hand you proof that you were, in fact, not telling the truth.
Here since '95 - where's my medal? January 08, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Your description of the environmental testing that was not completed before the zoning board decided to grant the school this variance is not factual. Hatikvah’s application included a report from HESA Environmental Corporation. Section 4.0 “Conclusions and Recommendations” speaks to the environmental tests that the school had not yet attempted prior to the variance being granted and prior to the Eisenreich Foundation purchasing the building. The purchase of this building took place with no care for whether the outcome of those tests. The HSEA report was conducted for the purpose of environmental impact, not for the purposes of determining if the building was appropriate for school children. When asked by one of the objectors for an explanation of why federal recommendations for school siting were not followed, the school never responded and the Board never considered the detriment to children (one of the negative criteria). The HSEA report does point out that the current loading dock formerly housed box trailers, and therefore petroleum hydrocarbons analysis should be completed. Again, the land deal was made prior to this testing. The real estate deal came first; the concern for children came second.
Here since '95 - where's my medal? January 08, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Also of interest from that part of the report is that the loading dock in particular is recommended for additional testing. The loading dock is part of the building that will remain as is, until the school returns back to the zoning board in two years. You have no idea what will be unearthed there and that portion of the building will in fact remain as it is, now, a warehouse for the next two years, while children occupy the other half of the building. Sincerely, “Here since the 75, where’s my medal?”
Liti Haramaty January 08, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Really EBtalloaks? it not a school for a 'a special interest group'? Yes it was approved by the state's DOE - but it teaches an obscure and rarely spoken language to children who mostly attended private Jewish schools before Hatikva was opened. The name means 'hope' and is also the name of the national anthem of a small middle eastern country.
Paying Attention January 08, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Though willing to engage in this important public dialog, some EB residents may be reluctant to sign their name while others, protected by a pseudonym, impugn the character and motives and even overtly threaten anyone who dares question whether an industrial zone is an appropriate and safe location for a school supported by public tax dollars and whether the health and safety of the children who will attend the school is being adequately protected.
EBtalloaks January 08, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Liti - Are all 80+ approved charter schools in New Jersey special interest groups as well? Or just the one in your town?
Dan F January 08, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Anyone here ever go to school on a street as depressing and isolated as Lexington? I sure didn't.
Anne January 08, 2013 at 06:23 PM
EBTalloaks - it seems to me that the last three op-eds written by pro-Hatikvah parents/grandparents focused mainly on why they like the school. In fact, the comments that the few of them actually made at the council hearing were all about how they loved the school and not about zoning issues. If the Hatikvah parents could focus on the content of this appeal, which is a land use issue, I'm sure we'd all love to move on and stop with the back and forth about the merits of the school.
EB since 76 January 08, 2013 at 06:43 PM
@ Here since '95 The HESA report is known as a preliminary assessment. The next step, which is the required testing, which was performed on the building is reported in 3 other documents. I am sure you read all of them. And please don't refer to me as Mr. Sachs. I am not Mr. Sachs. I am a town resident just like you. I don't expect you to change your point of view on the school, but just to be informed that you may not know everything. When was the last time you visited this building?
EBtalloaks January 08, 2013 at 06:51 PM
I think you're generalizing about Hatikvah parents, Anne (commenters on both sides of the issue are at fault), but I couldn't agree more with your sentiment about sticking to issues of land use and zoning. That should be the focal point among the more reasonable of us trying to use this forum to have articulate and respectful engagement with our neighbors.
Paying Attention January 08, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Paying Attention 1:51 pm on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 If you Google AFTNJ as "EB since 76" suggests, you'll find that AFTNJ is the NJ Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, a 9,000 member union of public (including charter) and private school teachers and higher education faculty and staff that, among other things, "works to promote the welfare of children by providing progressively better educational opportunities for all, regardless of race, color, creed, gender and social, political, economic status, handicap or disability." (http://aftnj.org/mission/) The AFTNJ is a union that also works to protect its members. For example, I note that it established a disaster relief fund to assist members and retirees suffering losses from super-storm Sandy. Wow. What an unusual affiliation for a mother of two young children concerned about public education.
It's a conspiracy! January 08, 2013 at 07:08 PM
@ EBtalloaks You responded to Anne that she is right and we should stick to the zoning issues. Why then did Deborah Cornvaca post an article today that explains the purpose of her appeal was actually to encourage transparency? It is my opinion that she probably filed the appeal to go to the town council because it likely gets her side a better outcome. Going to the council essentially takes a land use matter that was decided by a zoning board and puts it before an elected body of politicians. As a result, it allows this situation to become a political issue, inviting all kinds of outside influences, legal or not. Otherwise, she could have appealed to the courts, which eliminates political influences but doesn't benefit her (and costs her more money).
It's a conspiracy! January 08, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Paying Attention...I think they were suggesting that the school is not part of the EBEA which is contrary to the mission on the AFTNJ.
It's a conspiracy! January 08, 2013 at 07:27 PM
typo...the mission OF the AFTNJ.
Anne January 08, 2013 at 07:43 PM
Conspiracy, I didn't read that to be the point of Ms. Cornavaca's letter. But, why bother listening, when you can create your own story, right?
Kelly January 08, 2013 at 07:54 PM
The NJEA and the AFT are two completely separate organizations, but, that's irrelevant. What are you even trying to imply here, that one of the organization's would want the school closed? That's ridiculous. The AFT represents charter school teachers. Actually, I believe both the AFT and the NJEA represent teachers at several charter schools in NJ. If anything, the high turnover rate of teachers and administrators, the lack of teacher experience, and the low salaries make for a very easy organizing drive. Both these organizations should be tripping over themselves to keep this school open. If you're going to concoct conspiracy theories, at least try to make them somewhat believable.
EB since 57, what did I win, Bob? January 08, 2013 at 08:22 PM
OK, Larry. That's exactly my point. I'm glad you dotted your "i's" and crossed your "t's" by including a PRELIMINARY report in your application, but if the Zoning Board wanted to examine the safety concerns of students and families, it would've conducted some of the testing recommended by HESA prior to having Eisenreich purchase the warehouse.
111375 January 09, 2013 at 07:24 PM
So, you peaked my interest, and as it's listed for last year, other than the principal and school nurse, most of the Hatikvah teachers are kids with no real teaching experience: http://php.app.com/edstaff/results2.php?county=Charter&district=Hatikvah+International+Charter+School&school=%25&lname=&fname=&job1=%25&Submit=Submit I can understand why parents used it for the free full-day kindergarten, but beyond that, I just don't understand it.
See for yourself January 09, 2013 at 08:23 PM
A personal attack on teachers I see? I re-ran the search for East Brunswick High School and sorted by number of classes taught. I was astounded by the fact that there are actually 37 out of 197 (19%) teachers working there - YES, this does not include any secretaries, cafeteria workers or aides - that are earning a combined $3,084,001 per year plus benefits to teach ZERO students. WOW, that's wonderful for the taxpayers. If I had the time I would run the same report for the entire district to see if 20% of our entire district teaches NO ONE. How dare you attack hard working ambitious young teachers. What nerve.
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 09:13 PM
I see no attacks on teachers at all. I feel bad for Hatikvah teachers that have no experienced educators there to mentor them. They deserve, as any other professionals, the opportunity to hone their craft with qualified mentors. Perhaps, if they had that students wouldn't be mistreated and taped without parental consent or left in a bathroom at the school. It's possible that experienced educators could have dealt with the situation appropriately.
EBtalloaks January 10, 2013 at 05:30 AM
Kelly and 111375 - The years of experience on the website provided by 111375 only reflects years teaching in New Jersey public schools (or some related criteria). I happen to know that some of those teachers showing just a few years of experience actually have 10+ years of overall teaching experience encompassing schools in other states, private schools, etc. There is no lack of experienced teachers at Hatikvah.
EBtalloaks January 10, 2013 at 02:45 PM
From Experience - It is incredibly distasteful and disrespectful of someone's privacy to mention a former teacher by name on this public forum. You should delete your post immediately.
From Experience January 10, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Maybe the school should set the tone by respecting children's privacy. Getting rid of a principal may have helped, but it doesn't turn back time.
EBtalloaks January 10, 2013 at 03:47 PM
From Experience - I'm not in your shoes and you're entitled to your opinions and perspectives. In fact, I'm genuinely interested in hearing both sides of the issues that are being discussed here. But I strongly encourage you to leave individual names off public forums and delete your post. Unless a specific teacher, principal, administrator, etc. called you out by name on a Patch forum, he or she has no business being done so by you.

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