The Rainbow Academy may want to consider changing from a children’s daycare center to a college. Because many of its prospective pupils could be prepping for their SATs by the time Morristown decides whether to allow the facility onto Turtle Road.
After hearing four more hours of testimony on Wednesday night, the town zoning board asked Rainbow representatives and residents who oppose the operation to return next year–Feb. 19, 2014–for a fourth meeting.
“I’m really just shocked,” said Guy Falzarano, founder and CEO of Rainbow Academy, which has 17 daycare centers across New Jersey and some 30 franchises in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He said this is the first opposition he has encountered since creating the company in 1997.
“Of all the things you can put anywhere, child care is the most benign use. They [residents] don’t want anything, because anything is going to increase traffic,” he said.
Rainbow Academy seeks variances to allow a 10,765-square-foot daycare center in a residential zone.
Residents from the neighboring Convent Mews condos brought their own attorney and a traffic expert on Wednesday. Placing the center in an unused parking lot will exacerbate traffic backups at the intersection of Turtle Road and Madison Avenue, residents contend.
Photos by Berit Ollestad and Kevin Coughlin. Please click icon below for captions.
Rainbow Academy estimates that parents and staff will add 122 vehicular trips on weekday mornings, and 123 in the afternoons.
The neighbors–who just about packed the meeting room, one week before Christmas– also share concerns about noisy drop-offs and pickups of children, noisy playgrounds (Rainbow Academy serves children between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years), smelly diapers in dumpsters, and an adverse impact on property values.
Allowing a daycare center in a residential zone would violate Morristown’s zoning master plan, which declares preservation of neighborhoods as a priority, according to resident Ilene Manahan.
Kathy Auriemma, from the Village at Convent Station condos in Morris Township, said neighbors did not receive adequate notice of the initial hearing in October.
Rainbow Academy offered several concessions on Wednesday:
- It will limit enrollment to 174 children, even though the state allows 194 in a facility of this size;
- It will erect a solid fence, instead of a wrought-iron one, to shield the condos from car headlights in the daycare parking lot
- It will add a stormwater recharge system, as requested by Morris Township Engineer Jim Slate, to minimize flooding for the neighborhood, which includes the Village at Convent Station in Morris Township
- It will add signs directing patrons heading for eastbound Madison Avenue to use Village Drive instead of Turtle Road.
- It will extend a Jan. 6 legal deadline for a town decision, enabling residents to testify on Feb. 19. The zoning board said it could not meet sooner on this issue; three meetings already are booked for January.
Gordon Meth, a traffic engineer introduced by the residents’ lawyer, Harvey Gilbert, suggested a pair of remedies for bottlenecks at the intersection of Madison Avenue, Turtle and Franklin roads.
Least costly, Gordon said, would be altering timing of the traffic signal, to give each of the roadways its own green light. That would permit simultaneous left and right turns, expediting the flow of traffic somewhat, he said.
Zoning board Chairman Larry Cohen noted a similar signal arrangement at the intersection of Ridgedale and East Hanover avenues.
A more expensive option would be adding a left-turn lane to Turtle Road, Gordon said. Residents pointed out that such a lane once existed. But turning space was cramped — the Care One rehab center has driveways on Turtle Road– and the lane was eliminated years ago.
After all the professional experts testified on Wednesday, it was 11 pm. Residents were given a half-hour to question the witnesses–who included Guy Falzarone, Rainbow engineering consultant Ray Caselli, and Rainbow traffic consultant Harold Maltz--and then they were invited back next year to comment at greater length.
Morristown Councilwoman Alison Deeb, whose fourth ward includes Turtle Road, attended but said she could not comment because the matter eventually could come before the council.
Rainbow daycare centers have co-existed peacefully with residential neighborhoods in Piscataway, Cranford, Iselin, North Brunswick and Mahwah, said Guy Falzarone, the CEO.
“In 16 years we’ve never had a complaint about noise or odors,” nor have property values suffered, he maintained.
MG Correspondent Berit Ollestad contributed to this report.