The Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS) gained a majority of the votes from the South Brunswick zoning board early Friday morning, but fell one vote short of a use variance for 12 Perrine Road.
The Zoning Board of Adjustments voted 4-3 in favor of the application filed by developer 12 P & Associates, LLC, which is owned by former PIACS Board of Trustee member Helena May.
It's now highly unlikely the charter school will be able to open in September, which would require obtaining a certificate of occupancy for any location by June 30. Immediately following the hearing, PIACS spokesman Parker Block said the school has not yet considered filing an appeal or asking for a third extension year from the New Jersey Department of Education, as plans for the opening of the charter school are now in limbo.
"We have to regroup. There were no additional plans beyond this application," Block said. "Everything was leading up to this."
PIACS was approved in 2010 by the state DOE. Problems with the school’s zoning application caused PIACS to be unable to open as planned at St. Joseph’s Seminary, on Mapleton Road in Plainsboro. The DOE then granted the school a one-year planning extension. , after determining it would be unable to gain zoning board approval and a certificate of occupancy by the deadline in 2011.
About 110 people attended last night's hearing, which began just after 7:45 p.m. and lasted until about 12:30 a.m. Friday morning.
A civil engineer who testified on behalf of the South Brunswick, Princeton and West Windsor-Plainsboro school districts, said traffic data supplied by PIACS witnesses was conducted on a day when WW-P schools were not in session and South Brunswick had a half-day.
"Had schools been open that day, the counts would be higher and the analysis would've shown a level of service that's more detrimental," said engineer Maurice Rached.
During peak hours for traffic at the intersection, close to 1,000 vehicles are projected to be on Perrine Road and Schalks Crossing Road. Projecting a 2 percent growth in traffic per year, by the fourth year of existence for PIACS there would be an additional 65 cars added to the road, with about 350 seconds of wait time at the intersection.
said the applicant would pay to have a police officer control the intersection during peak a.m. and p.m. travel times. Rached testified that no studies show whether a person can handle the volume of traffic that would be added to the road from the charter school.
South Brunswick Police told PIACS that an officer controlling traffic would not be a suitable long-term solution to the problems at the intersection. In addition, working the intersection would be put up as an extra duty job for officers, but there would be no guarantees that an officer would sign up for the duty each day when needed by the charter school.
Boccher said the applicant would do whatever was necessary to provide an officer at the intersection, but short of a guarantee, they would find a suitable alternative.
Once the public portion of the hearing began, about a dozen residents of South Brunswick and Plainsboro spoke in objection to the school.
Bruce Ross, who lives across the street from the proposed site of PIACS, said he was concerned about the impact the school would have on his quality of life. He asked why buffers were required for each side of the school except for across Perrine Road facing his residence.
"Where is my 100-foot buffer? Do I get one as a homeowner or do I live with the noise and traffic?" Ross said.
Monmouth Junction resident Lisa Rodgers said the additional cars and buses caused by transporting 290 students to the school would cause a significant backup on the surrounding roadways.
"Having personally sat at that intersection at 7:20 in the morning on Feb. 14 during school hours, traffic from Route 1 was backed up passed Perrine Road," she said. "I sat there for 15 minutes waiting to get on to Route 1. I can only imagine how long I'll have to wait when 200 cars and buses join me."
Only two members of the public spoke in favor of PIACS. South Brunswick resident Giora Griffel said that traffic from the other uses permitted in an OR-zone cause more of an impact to traffic than PIACS would.
"When you talk about the detrimental impact of the surrounding sites permitted for a whole host of activities, they create just as much traffic, if not more," he said. "This site would not increase traffic, it would probably reduce it."
During his closing statements, Boccher said the inherently beneficial classification for schools outweighed any negative impact from the application. South Brunswick's master plan permits middle schools and high schools in an OR-zone, but not elementary schools.
Following the closing statements, the room grew tense as each zoning board member cast their votes. The first three votes, cast by Al Adinolfi, Bharat Patel and Al Nardi were all in favor of the application.
"If they can't handle the safety of the children then no parent would enroll their children in the school anyway," Patel said. "I'm not saying local schools are bad, but let them chase each other to do better."
Patel was immediately reminded by board chairman Martin Hammer to stick to land use issues.
The next three votes sealed the fate of the application, as board members Aarti Gupta, Arthur Bifulco, and Arthur Troccoli cast votes against the application.
"Despite being asked on numerous occasions, the applicant refused to provide peak traffic data on a school day and I think that's unfortunate," Troccoli said. "No one has been able to tell us what the impact of putting an officer at that intersection would be."
Hammer closed the hearing casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the application, but at that point PIACS was unable to obtain the required votes for a use variance.
"Something is going to go on that site," Hammer said. "At some point, somebody is going to come in and have way more of an impact on that site."
Block said it’s unclear at this point how PIACS will proceed, as they decide on a new course of action.