The West Orange Board of Education unanimously voted Monday to enter a formal appearance against a traffic expert for plans to construct a strip mall and day care center in the current space of the Essex House restaurant on Northfield Avenue.
Members said their aim is to modify the plan at the Sept. 16 zoning board meeting and to get a formal traffic study at the start of the new school year.
Harvey Grossman, a public advocate, asked the board Monday to intervene in the plans concerning the Essex House development because of traffic concerns with children.
Grossman claimed that this reconstruction of the area proves to be a public safety issue in which the ingress and egress of traffic occurring around the area could endanger those who work or attend neighboring St. Cloud Elementary School on Sheridan Avenue.
Grossman also said that the three traffic studies performed previously during the summer do not address public safety and traffic flow around St. Cloud adequately enough.
Megan Brill, president of the West Orange Board of Education, agreed with Grossman on his claims.
"I think the more important part that might be what everyone is missing to this date, is that the traffic study that was done during business/commuting hours not realizing that it's a school," said Brill.
"It's busy at 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then sometimes even after that. The buses line up there. They did traffic studies in the middle of the summer; there are no buses lining up there."
Adam Geher, principal of St. Cloud Elementary School, was present at Monday's meeting to show his concern for the location of the proposed driveway and how it would affect his students and teachers.
"My largest concern is where the current driveway exists and the plans for where the new driveway is proposed to be moved," he said. "That is going to be moved approximately 30 feet away from Northfield Avenue which would be directly across the street from our school, closer to the crossing guard, closer to where the buses line up, across the street from the driveway at the end of the day ... there is just too much traffic."
St. Cloud Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association has been involved with the plans since spring, said Jennifer Winning, president of the school's PTA.
"We're concerned about the safety of our students at the dismissal time with the traffic coming out and their proposal to move the exit (from the proposed site) closer to the school," she said at the Aug. 19 zoning board hearing. "I'm concerned because I looked at the traffic report and they didn't study the afternoon time period."
Robert C. Williams, the attorney for the applicants, James Markouris and MBP Incorporated, said a traffic expert will be presented at a future zoning board hearing.
"We've done a careful analysis of traffic impact on the site," he told reporters at the Aug. 19 hearing. "We hired the traffic expert who did the traffic analysis for the board of education to make sure it's consistent."
The report studied the traffic pattern between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to Winning.
Brill said the board is not against the development of the Essex House, but they do want to see the plan modified to favor the safety of the children.
"Not that we want to torture the folks at the Essex House, but that has to be a pound-out issue … kids running in between cars … there is not a lot of room on that street," she said. "That all has to be taken into consideration before they build anything."