Last winter, traffic concerns trumped a daycare center proposed for Turtle Road in Morristown.
Now, trees loom large for a similar application facing the zoning board tonight, Sept. 3, 2014.
The Learning Experience wants to open a 10,000-square-foot franchise at the intersection of Normandy Parkway at 170 Madison Ave, to serve 175 children who range from infants to pre-kindergarten age.
A use variance is needed because the property, one of the last undeveloped tracts in Morristown, is zoned only for residential development. Ordinarily, this variance not pose much of a hurdle. The state considers daycare centers beneficial to society, and expects local boards to do their best to accommodate them.
But the town’s new zoning master plan urges a careful weighing of the pros and cons in such cases.
“In the master plan, residents of Morristown made it abundantly clear that they don’t want further infringements on residential zones,” said Phil Abramson, the town’s planning consultant.
One of the cons in this case, according to the town environmental commission, is the proposed removal of 145 mature trees, and as many as 200 trees, from the one-acre site.
“To put this in perspective, the Morristown shade tree commission is planning on spending thousands of dollars to plant hundreds of young shade trees around town,” environmental commission Chairwoman Louise Witt wrote in a memo to the zoning board.
“These are not insignificant trees. Among their benefits, trees provide shade, generate oxygen, absorb air pollutants, protect against soil erosion, reduce urban heat, reduce water pollution and provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife.”
Zoning Boards cannot permit inherently beneficial uses if they will cause a substantial impact to the public good or otherwise impair the intent and purpose of the local zoning ordinance.–Morristown Master Plan
Nor has the applicant, 170 Madison Ave. LLC, explained how it will provide screening buffers for residential neighbors at Twombly Court, Washington Avenue and Normandy Parkway when the trees are gone, the commission contends. The parcel also borders the Traction Line Recreational Trail.
seeks to be exempted was exempted from submitting an environmental impact statement. Additional variances are sought to modify town regulations for buffer zones, setbacks and parking. The center intends to create 30 parking spaces, instead of the 35 mandated for a project of this scope.
A representative of the project has not yet responded to Morristown Green’s request for comment.
Other concerns raised by the environmental commission include storm water runoff, traffic impacts, and whether emergency vehicles will be able to navigate the proposed right-turn-only entrance and exit on Madison Avenue to access the daycare center.
“The environmental commission would like the applicant to provide the additional information sought in this letter in order for the town residents to adequately balance the benefits of a daycare center against the detriments to their environment, their neighborhoods and their community,” Witt concluded.
In February, after extensive hearings attended by many residents of Morristown and Morris Township, the town zoning board voted 6-1 to reject an unrelated application for a Rainbow Academy daycare center.
Worries about increased traffic congestion at the busy Turtle Road/Madison Avenue/Franklin Street intersection scuttled that project.