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PIACS Spokesman: 'We Have to Regroup'

The Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS) failed to gain enough votes for a use variance from the South Brunswick zoning board during a hearing that stretched into Friday morning.

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. 

Marty Abschutz March 23, 2012 at 12:30 PM
This is unexpected. I thought the applicant would deal with the traffic study issue to the satisfaction of the Board, last night. Since they didn't, it is not a shock that the variance request failed.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Funny with all the decisions the created over crowding and traffic congestion the board found the tiny school to be a big problem. The state needs to investigate this to see who pedaled their influence.
Jack Wagon March 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Bharat Patel should be removed from his position on the zoning board immediately after last night. His personal sentiment proved he did not vote on PIACS solely as a zoning issue. He condemned himself with his own words. I no longer have to wonder how and why Patel has voted and will continue to vote on any issue. He's using a skewed methodology to come up with zoning decisions. According to Patel's statement last night, this zoning applications was not solely based on the merit of the application, but his own personal depictions of what he thinks should be a competition between two local schools. Good thing Mr. Hammer reprimanded him. Time to get rid of this guy and get a person on the zoning board who don't have a partisan hidden agenda. Having such a diverse population, there is no room in this town for a zoning member who is using his own personal sentiment to make important decisions for SB.
Dana March 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Another win for the residents of South Brunswick and Plainsboro! Proof that the zoning board is taking their opinions and concerns to heart and care about the traffic impact in the community. This was about land use. Unless you consider Patel's vote...he obviously was not voting about land use. Thank you to the 3 members who voted 'no'.
Kelly March 23, 2012 at 12:56 PM
This comment is absurd. South Brunswick and Princeton schools are the "failing status quo"? Really? Also, it seems pretty clear that the people fighting this battle are parents and taxpayers. Why are you trying to a make this a union issue? Nice try though.
Plainsboro Parent March 23, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Patel said: "If they can't handle the safety of the children then no parent would enroll their children in the school anyway," That's like saying if someone invented a car that had no experience in car safety that people would stop buying it if some of the cars crashed. Not exactly well thought out as there's no proof PIACS could handle safety. PIACS demonstrated their early lack of safety planning with testimony at previous meetings where they were obvious clueless about an on site nurse and facilities to accommodate children with special needs. So approve the school and put children at risk until a child is hurt because THEN parents will stop enrolling their children? Really? Does Patel have any school age children he's intending to enroll at PIACS?
Joe R March 23, 2012 at 02:18 PM
From the article: "..... the application filed by developer 12 P & Associates, LLC, which is owned by former PIACS Board of Trustee member Helena May." That's a rather cozy incestuous relationship? So this private corporation will be making a nice profit from this whole deal at tax payers' expense? Just wondering.
Joe R March 23, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Plainsboro Parent is correct. People stopped buying the Ford Pinto after how many people were maimed beyond recognition or killed because the car had an incredibly lethal gas tank design. Patel's remarks are pathetic and had nothing to do with the zoning question. He deserved to be reprimanded. Who gets to vote on the de facto superintendant of a charter school or the school board equivalent of a charter school?
Concerned SB Citizen March 23, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Mr. Al Nardi stated in his voting statement that, he thinks about kids safety and talk about traffic concern and what does he do in end?? Vote "Yes" for charter school!! Also, @ Winston, it is not win of union, it's win of SB community. It was good show by SB and Plainsboro resident and specially Debi Johnson and Lisa Rodgers. United we win! GO SB.
sbvikings March 23, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Winston, once again you don't get the issue. It's a big win for parents and children. The unions had nothing to do with this. And for you to bring that up is a joke. Mr.Abschutz is 100% right, the applicant screwed up by not updating there traffic study, by not widening the road and by not putting in the traffic light. And having very poor planning testimony.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 03:29 PM
We need to throw out the twins council, the school board and all those who voted no to this zoning request. There has been collusion from day one between unions and special interest groups and yes....those who either don't like or are afraid of Chinese people. Wake up SB it's time we broke the union stranglehold on our tax dollars and children's future.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 03:30 PM
No Marty you knew the fix was in before the vote...
I am RIGHT March 23, 2012 at 03:48 PM
It's always great when unsubstantiated accusations are posted.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Read the docs submitted for the court hearing....big embarrassment on our education leaders. Colluding and wasting our money,
SBFan March 23, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Let's start the campaign...Get Rid of Bharat Patel!
Bob Abooey March 23, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Not with my tax dollars!
SBFan March 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM
The residents will remember the board members who voted yes! All their opponents need to do is remind the veoters in their fliers and that will do it in the next election. Specially Bharat Patel is the first one to go.
SBFan March 23, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Are you serious Winston? SB Public School System is one of the best in the state. There is no justification for a charter school here...may be in Newark..but not here. I bet you if this is put to vote locally, this will be rejected overwhelmingly. Let the local residents decide what is good for our community, not the state government bureaucrats or politicians.
Lisa Rodgers March 23, 2012 at 05:02 PM
What upsets me the most is the comments from Adinolfi, Nardi and Patel. At least Hammer gave a somewhat roundabout explanation of his reasoning (though I don't support it). Adinolfi "I don't see a traffic problem - there will be one no matter what goes there" - brilliant! Do you see a problem or don't you?? Nardi - "I don't see a safety problem" - Right - Every Elementary school in this town and other's are located in neighborhoods for a reason! Elementary kids safety is first. When you deal with Middle/High School, though safety is a concern, these kids can cross a road safely, they don't run out into a parking lot or a street with out thinking. Little children do! There is no walkway along Perrine, so how will kids walk to the school with their parents during events, when they park on Perrine, or Krebs because there is no overflow parking? Patel's comment -- well it's already been quoted, so no reason to rehash that nightmare! Thank you to Gupta, Bifulco and Trocoli for stating the obvious - PIACS failed yet again to provide the data necessary! But be ready - you know that they will come back and point the finger at everyone but themselves. Oh and thanks to the news coverage on the voting-- it's about time we hold our council members accountable for their actions and votes.
Jack Wagon March 23, 2012 at 05:30 PM
The problem is the 4 other members voted "yes" on the supposed "merits of the application", how sad.
Jack Wagon March 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
"Block said it’s unclear at this point how PIACS will proceed, as they decide on a new course of action." How about this course of action: Go to a community that actually needs a charter school. Give underprivileged kids a chance to get out of their failing public schools and give them the life skills and an education to have potentially successful careers.
Jack Wagon March 23, 2012 at 07:30 PM
It's a conspiracy Winston - All three guys who voted "no" are named Art. If that's not collusion, I don't know what is.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 08:10 PM
: Ahh, but the strawberries that's... that's where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with... geometric logic... that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox DID exist, and I'd have produced that key if they hadn't of pulled the Caine out of action. I, I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officers...
I am RIGHT March 23, 2012 at 08:38 PM
The Caine Mutiny.........nice........
Marty Abschutz March 23, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Winston, if you look carefully, you will see I was not on the distribution list of the memo you received.
Marty Abschutz March 23, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Winston, an apt paraphrase by you: Capt. Queeg saw a strawberry/duplicate key conspiracy where there was none.
Winston March 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Marty I am giving you formal notice - Cease and desist from using my copywrited materials in any shape, manner and form. If you continue to do so I will be forced to take legal action. Hey I gotta protect my brand and intellectual property ya know!
Jerry Avins March 24, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Marty, You seem to know who "Winston" is. Please let me know so I don't get taken in should I meet him in person.
Jack Wagon March 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Well, for those who are disappointed in the PIACS decision, maybe it will make you feel better to see it as just another sign of the apocalypse upon us. If the Mayans have it right, it will all be over before years end.
Winston March 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Marty...it looks like your buddy Joe doesn't get our "swordmanship". It is good to see the elderly members of our community participating though!

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