Friday, March 12, 2010

School District Was Denied Zoning Variances For High School Renovation

Updated 2010-03-12 22:51 and 2010-03-13 10:51 with additional details.

Last night, at the conclusion of a public hearing that ran from 7:30 to nearly 11 p.m., the Zoning Hearing Board denied the School District’s appeal for the zoning variances needed to support the current plan to renovate the high school. The appeal requested variances for parking and lot-coverage. Both were denied in 3-0 votes. Additionally, in two more 3-0 votes, the Zoning Hearing Board sustained earlier findings of the municipal zoning officer, in effect affirming that the variances were necessary.

A court reporter was present to make a transcript of hearing, and all speakers were sworn in before testifying.

First to proceed was the School District. The District’s testimony was directed by its attorney, Irving S. Firman, of Tucker Arensberg Attorneys. Mr. Firman led Dr. Timothy Steinhauer, School District Superintendent, through an hour-long presentation about the high-school project. This was followed by testimony from Thomas C. Celli, of Celli-Flynn Brennan Architects, the District’s architect for the project. Also representing the School District were a landscape architect, who testified about lot coverage, and a parking consultant, who testified about a parking analysis of the project.

Following the District’s testimony, the three-member Zoning Hearing Board questioned the School District’s representatives. At first, they asked questions to clarify the District’s testimony. Then, they asked more-specific questions, designed to understand the District’s request for variances.

After that exchange, an attorney for the municipality spoke. The municipal solicitor stated that the municipality had reviewed the zoning officer’s previous findings – that, in effect, the School District did not have an existing “matter of right” that would permit the plan to proceed without the requested variances.

Next, a handful of residents offered their testimony to the Zoning Hearing Board. Some residents spoke more than once, returning to present additional testimony as needed throughout the evening. Between speakers, the Zoning Hearing Board asked follow-up questions, allowing for meaningful back-and-forth discussion.

After all parties had made their concerns and positions known, the members of the Zoning Hearing Board held a brief, off-the-record discussion. Then, back on the record, they summarized the School District’s requests, listed the four items up for consideration, and voted:

First, on the request for a lot-coverage variance, the vote was 3-0 to deny the variance.

Second, on the request for a parking variance, the vote was 3-0 to deny the variance.

Third, on the zoning officer’s determination on the necessity of a lot-coverage variance, the vote was 3-0 to sustain the zoning officer’s determination that a variance was required.

Fourth, on the zoning officer’s determination on the necessity of a parking variance, the vote was 3-0 to sustain the zoning officer’s determination that a variance was required.

The decisions rendered, the hearing concluded.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Dave Franklin said...

This seems like another example of the District's "Ready-Fire-Aim" approach to this project.

You have to stop and wonder if the District would have had better luck with the variance request if they had actually engaged the Municipality in a positive way. The District has failed to allow the Municipality to be a cooperative part of this project, despite knowing full well that the Municipality's blessing will be required for several critical aspects of the project.

March 12, 2010 2:25 PM  

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