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.
- 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?