ROXBURY, NJ — The Roxbury school district is seeking a review by the township Planning Board of its proposed outdoor pavilion project behind Lincoln-Roosevelt School.
Here’s the rub: Work at the site — the former tennis courts between Lincoln-Roosevelt and Franklin School in Succasunna — has already started.
The $1.4 million project, approved by the Roxbury School Board in December, involves removing the dilapidated, long-abandoned former tennis courts and erecting two 50-foot-wide by 100-foot-long, open-sided pavilions that will include four classrooms, said Roxbury Schools Administrator Joseph Mondanaro in December.
The district’s request for planning board review is not really a case of “it’s better to seek forgiveness than permission.” Unlike private entities, school districts are not required to apply to municipal planning or zoning boards for their projects, said Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd.
“We certainly would rather have them come in before they get started,” he said. However, planning board review of school projects is primarily done on a courtesy basis wherein “the district can accept some of the board’s comments” or reject all of them, the manager acknowledged.
“It’s strictly a courtesy review under state code,” Shepherd explained. “It’s an interesting state code … They have a lot of their own authority and that comes right from the state.”
'What's the Need?'
The fact that site work is already well underway was pointed out in a March 26 memo to the planning board by Roxbury Township Planner Russell Stern.
“The Board of Education has removed the tennis courts located along Meeker Street and now seeks courtesy review from the Planning Board to proceed with construction of two 50-foot by 100-foot pavilions for ‘open air outdoor educational meeting space,’” wrote Stern.
The town does have authority to issue construction permits, according to Shepherd. Although Stern said construction permits have not been issued, he noted that retaining walls have already been built and structural steel and other building materials are at the site.
It might be moot, but Stern said the school district should explain what it’s doing and why. “An overview of the proposal should be addressed and include the need (for the pavilions),” wrote the planner. He also said he’d like to know “the student capacity within each pavilion.”
A Sense of the Street View
Much of Stern’s reviews of development applications relate to the project's aesthetics and other impacts on neighboring properties. In his review, Stern noted the site is across Meeker Street from the First Presbyterian Church/United Methodist Church cemetery.
“Proposed building materials, colors and height of the pavilion should be addressed,” he said. “The scale of the development plan makes it difficult to understand the proposed layout.”
Stern asked the district to “clarify the proposal for sidewalks, chain link retaining wall fence, block retaining wall, separation/divider walls, etc.”
In fact, Stern is recommending the district reconsider its plan to install a 10-foot-high chain link fence along Meeker Street and around the pavilions. “A lower and decorative fence should be considered,” he wrote, noting that the maximum permitted fence height in the front yard is four feet.
Stern’s concerns about the appearance of the project extend to trees. “As existing trees along Meeker Street have been removed, new street trees … should be planted 40 feet on center,” he wrote. “While much of the existing 10-foot-high chain link fence is no longer present, all remaining sections associated with tennis and basketball courts should be removed.”
Stern’s comments appear to reflect concern about how the finished project will look, but Mondanero pointed out, in December, that the site has been a run-down eyesore for years. “I’ve been here a little over three years, and that place has been a thorn in my side,” he said.
The courtesy review is on the agenda for the April 7 planning board meeting, taking place in remote fashion at 7:30 p.m.
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