By Ron Leir
A 36-unit residential development being pitched to the Nutley Zoning Board of Adjustment has township and school officials on the edge of their seats wondering how many schoolage kids the project may generate if approved.
Mayor Alphonse Petracco is blunt about it. “The issue is this: Our schools can’t take one more student.”
And that’s why the township Board of Education is reviewing several scenarios to address existing overcrowding situations, none of which has yet been committed to, according to BOE President Charles Kucinski.
Little Falls developer Skender Meka, who has built luxury apartments along E. Centre St. and upgraded apartments elsewhere in the township, is now seeking approvals to tear down the vacated B&B auto repair shop and two vacant homes on either side at the northwest intersection of Passaic Ave. and Kingsland St. and put up a 4-story apartment building.
On Monday night, July 21, the local zoning board was due to consider an application for site plan and major subdivision approvals for the project which calls for 14 one-bedroom units on the second floor, 13 onebedrooms on the third floor and nine one-bedrooms on the fourth floor, plus 1,540 square feet of retail space on the plaza level.
Meka also needed several bulk variances, including height, lot coverage, setback and for a mixed-use in the R-1 section of the project site.
The application filed by Meka’s attorney Thomas DiBiasi noted that, “The existing property suffers from extensive environmental contamination and requires professional remediation.”
Petracco recalled that the township Board of Commissioners recently passed an ordinance limiting density in garden apartments in the E. Centre St. area with a view to preventing unsustainable growth, particularly as impacting on local school capacity.
At the same time, Petracco said, “That area of town was looking very tired and what’s there now – predominantly one-bedrooms – is better. I applaud that effort. … Studies show [residential developments with] one-bedrooms have minimum impact on schools.”
Petracco said that making those type of apartments available also benefits older couples and seniors “who want to stay here in Nutley but who can no longer afford living in a house have the option to do that, rather than move to places like Toms River.”
As for the proposed new apartment building at Passaic and Kingsland, Petracco had this observation: “If I got off Rt. 3 and that’s the first thing I saw driving into Nutley, I would say that seeing a boarded up building and an empty automotive service shop was not the best thing as a gateway to the township,” the mayor said. “I’d rather have a vibrant building than abandoned buildings.”
But, he added, if any neighbors are opposed to the project, “they should come to the [zoning board] meeting and express their feelings.”
Meanwhile, the Board of Education is reviewing several options to change its infrastructure landscape.
For example, Kucinski said the board is considering: converting the use of two existing Yantacaw School trailers now used 45 minutes each day for music and art classes to home rooms “if enrollment [growth patterns] continue”; condensing second-grade classes from four to three sections, with each section accommodating between 19 and 23; and leasing or buying classroom trailers to house increasing numbers of children and/or moving some sixth-grade classes to John W. Walker Middle School.
Economics will factor into the board’s next step: “Trailers run from $20,000 to $60,000 to buy outright,” Kucinski said. To comply with state regulations, the trailers must be equipped with bathrooms, fire alarms and, in some instances, sprinkler systems, he added. Each trailer is designed to hold up to 24 kids plus a teacher and an aide.
Projecting fall enrollment numbers at this point, Kucinski said, is complicated by the fact that “for some reason, parents don’t register children for kindergarten at Washington and Lincoln schools until mid- August.”
In the meantime, the board has contracted with NEIF Construction Services, Denville, to re-cement the Oval bleachers for $181,700; Northeast Roof Maintenance, Perth Amboy, to do roof work at the high school for $169,000; C&M Door Control, Port Reading, to replace fire doors at the high school for $216,900; and Salazar Associates, Union, to reconfigure office and classroom space at Lincoln School as a security move for $72,314.