SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — A new home for JESPY House’s clients is one step closer to accessibility. On Monday, Feb. 3, The South Orange Planning Board conditionally approved the completeness of its application for a variance to install an elevator on the side of the house.

Conditionally, because the board and town planning consultant Philip Abramson of Topology had questions about the variance application. The Academy Street house is under contract to JESPY House and, once purchased and made accessible for those with disabilities, will be home to six JESPY House clients. JESPY House is a South Orange-based non-profit which provides support services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Abramson addressed his questions about the completeness of the application to Elaine Berkenwald, the land use attorney representing JESPY for the application. He said a traffic and parking impact statement was needed, as he was concerned that JESPY may need a variance for not having enough parking spots for the six-bedroom residence. 

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Berkenwald explained that since it was a one family house and the residents would be living as one family, including having one kitchen, a parking study was not needed. She cited NJ state statute 40:55D-66.1, “Community residences for the developmentally disabled…and physically disabled adults shall be a permitted use in all residential districts of a municipality, and the requirements therefor shall be the same as for single family dwelling units located within such districts.” She also said a parking study “would be unduly burdensome” to JESPY. 

When the board voted to approve it conditionally, they noted the application needed to include a statement about parking, even if it is a legal argument as to why they don’t need a study, as Abramson had noted that the local ordinance and the state statute were at odds on the treatment of a group home for disabled adults; a couple other items of documentation were requested as well.

Present at the meeting were JESPY House clients, employees, and board members. The clients brought signs of support for their application.

Audrey Winkler, JESPY House executive director, said that this was the first time the organization had come before the planning board. “I never imagined it would be as involved” as it was, she noted after the meeting. “It’s a very onerous process, especially for a small non-profit.” She said “of course we will comply” and ensure the missing items are included in the application. "Our clients desperately need accessible housing," she said.

As for the parking concern, Winkler said, “This is a single family house with two parking spots. End of story.” She also noted that most JESPY House clients do not own cars, or even drive. 

According to the JESPY House website, they serve “approximately 35 clients living in The Residence and Shared Housing facilities; approximately 120 clients who live independently in their own apartments or condominiums in the South Orange community, with the support of JESPY Outclient Services; and an additional 60 adults who participate in several JESPY programs while living elsewhere.”

The full case for the variance will be heard at the next planning board meeting on March 2.