To the displeasure of the large and sometimes unruly crowd of about 30 neighborhood residents who turned out to protest the proposal, the Lawrence Township Planning Board during its meeting Monday night (Oct. 15) approved a minor site plan application that will allow a vacant home at 22 Fackler Rd. to be remodeled and used as a daycare facility.
As part of the plan, the first floor of the house will be renovated into classrooms, while the basement and second floor will be converted into storage and office space. In order to comply with setback requirements in Lawrence Township’s Land Use Ordinance, an existing garage will be relocated and attached to the main building via an enclosed walkway and an existing barn with be reduced in size and turned into additional storage space.
Maliha Mufti, who currently runs two daycare centers on Greenwood Avenue and Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton Township, purchased the Fackler Road property with her husband about two years ago.
While a state license – currently in the application process – will dictate exactly how many children the Fackler Road daycare will be allowed, Mufti testified that an enrollment of about 50 students – infants as young as two months up to children aged 5 – was anticipated. Douglas Pelikan, the civil engineer for the project, testified that because of the size of the septic system currently in place on the property the facility’s maximum allowable capacity, including both children and staff, was 65.
Mufti said she anticipates employing seven caregivers/teachers, but conceded that one or two more might be needed. Not all staff will be working at the same time because – unlike at a public school – daycare students do not have a set schedule as to when they need to be dropped off or picked up by their parents, and also the mandatory child-to-teacher ratio set by the state varies depending on the age of the children who are present at any given time.
Mufti said the facility would be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the peak drop-off time for children falling between 7 and 9:30 a.m. and pickups typically beginning around 3:30 p.m. and continuing throughout the afternoon, as parents’ work schedules vary, particularly those involved in healthcare fields.
Angry neighbors who spoke out at the meeting expressed concern about the impact the daycare will have on traffic along Fackler Road and neighboring residential streets, pointing out that traffic along Fackler – which runs between Route 206 (Lawrence Road) and Princeton Pike – is already bad and often spills over onto nearby Teak Lane and Foxcroft Drive.
They questioned whether the layout of the proposed parking lot, with its 17 spaces, would be able to accommodate a large number of parents simultaneously trying to drop off or pick up their children. They worried that a line of backed-up vehicles waiting to turn into the parking lot might result, blocking traffic on Fackler Road. To address some of these concerns, Mufti agreed to “bank” board approval for six additional parking spaces should they become needed in the future.
One resident of the gated Province Hill development, entered via Deer Run off Fackler Road, submitted a petition which he said contained signatures of 72 area residents demanding the planning board order that a traffic impact study be conducted before the daycare application could proceed.
The neighbors also peppered Mufti with questions about her proposed staffing, what kind of trash would be generated by the facility and how it would be removed, and what steps would be taken to maintain the property, which includes a large grass- and tree-covered field at the corner of Fackler Road and Princeton Pike.
The board explained to the audience that under the township’s Land Use Ordinance a daycare is a conditional use allowed in that neighborhood’s residential zoning designation, Environmental Protection 2. They further noted that Mufti’s application, as amended during Monday’s meeting, met all five required criteria for a conditional use – minimum lot size, minimum lot frontage, building setback, access, and parking lot screening and setback.
As part of its review of the application, the audience was told, the board has no jurisdiction to consider traffic matters.
Having extended the meeting about a half-hour beyond the scheduled 10 p.m. adjournment time to allow closing comments from the audience, the board voted to approve the application, with board member Philip Duran casting the lone dissenting vote, saying he disagreed with the legal process that did not allow the board to consider the potential impact on traffic and the surrounding neighborhood.
Audio from the full board meeting can be found in the media box above.