The South Orange Planning Board met on October 7 to discuss a single application, for new signage and a greenhouse for the STEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges, the signage to be at the foot of the driveway at corner of West Montrose Avenue and Scotland Road.  The academy, located at the site of the former Marylawn of the Oranges school, needed the Planning Board to review and recommend but not approve the project.  Board attorney William Sullivan explained that the Planning Board would hear the application and then recommend the project, with its own suggestions, to the state Board of Education for its approval.  Following approval, the Orange Board of Education, which runs the STEM school, would seek permits from the village and comply with code requirements.

“One of the issues we have was that we felt was that one of the improvements was too close to the lot line, too close to the residential area and so we made comments about that,” Sullivan said, referring to the greenhouse.  He added that it would be helpful to determine how close the greenhouse would be to that line. 

Architect Philip Reina, represented by attorney Bob Shea, testified about the project, saying that the greenhouse would stand 60 feet back from the western property line.  The plans were made on a property that is actually four different parcels of land that had been identified as if they were one lot, and Reina said the lot lines were incorporated into the blueprints in a good-faith act to demonstrate how the greenhouse would be adequately set back.  The greenhouse itself would be plastic laminated panels with an aluminum glazing.

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Two of the eight South Orange Planning Board members reviewing the application had questions about it.  Board Vice Chairman Michael Lerman asked about the floor of the greenhouse and whether it would be a simple slab of concrete.  Reina made it clear that the floor of the greenhouse would have a gravel foundation so that water used on the plants could be absorbed.   Board member David Kraiker noted that the students taking courses involving field work in the greenhouse would have to cross the main driveway to access the greenhouse, and he thought that would be dangerous for the students.  Kraiker noted that his own two high-school-age children are easily distracted and feared that STEM students would similarly be inattentive to motorists.  “I don’t think they would be paying any attention to the school buses or delivery trucks coming down the driveway,” he explained.

As a possible solution, Kraiker proposed a speed bump in the driveway to slow traffic.  Reina said that the academy would not be opposed to that.

Eric Keller, the board’s engineering consultant, noted that a beech tree on the property could have its roots compromised by the greenhouse, and he thought that the best solution was to take it down and replace it with a group of trees in the immediate area.  Greer Patras, the board’s planner and the village’s zoning officer, had a question about the sign.  She asked why the proposed signage was so large.  Reina explained that it was to identify the STEM academy more easily for fire trucks, which have to proceed down West Montrose Avenue and make a left turn onto Vose Avenue to access the school from the rear parking-lot entrance off Vose Avenue.  The sign, he said, would make it clear to firefighters looking for the school that they were at the right place and could proceed accordingly around the block to reach the fire.  Patras also asked about the greenhouse and whether it would be lit after hours. Reina assured her that the lighting for the greenhouse would be timed to go off after hours, and that it would only use its lighting from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. 

Board Chairman Harold Colton-Max moved to have the application forwarded to the state Board of Education, and the eight members voted unanimously to do so.  The application now goes to Trenton the state school board’s review and for a vote on approval.  Sullivan will now prepare a letter for the state school board making suggestions, such as a speed bump in the driveway, for review.

In other news, Patras reported that the master plan was still in progress and that it should be basically done by the end of the year, though the transportation element may go into early 2020.  She also said that a series of public meetings would be held to gather data from residents about various intersections in town to study pedestrian traffic as an element to consider in future planning. Patras also said that more information is available on the village’s Web site.          

“I’d say it’s very interactive, and I’m very excited,” Patras said about the coming effort to gather public input.

Chairman Colton-Max agreed.  “Please do take the opportunity to participate,” he said to residents in attendance and watching at home.  “We encourage you to get involved.”         

The Fourth Street and Valley Street redevelopment plan, which was expected to be heard at this meeting, has been postponed to November 4 due to problems issuing proper notice.