Princeton Planning Board approves trailers for charter school expansion

The Princeton Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday morning to approve the Princeton Charter School’s plans for two temporary trailers at the school.

Planning board members Tim Quinn, Jenny Crumiller and Fern Spruill recused themselves and were not present at the hearing. Quinn and Crumiller, both council members, voted in favor of a resolution to oppose the charter school’s expansion last spring. Spruill is a member of the school board. The school board is suing the charter school to fight the charter school’s expansion. Charter school leaders had called for the three to recuse themselves.

Paul Josephson, the head of the board of trustees for the charter school, said he was pleasantly surprised by the planning board’s decision and is looking forward to moving forward with the school’s expansion.

The charter school will place two 66-foot by 28-foot trailers side by side on its campus on Bunn Drive west of the existing gymnasium on a surface parking lot. The trailers will be allowed to be there for up to three years to accommodate the growth at the charter school. Fifty-four more students will be enrolled in the school this fall, and another 18 students will be added the following academic year. The trailers are temporary and the school is planning to add to its campus buildings in the near future. The state granted the charter school’s expansion in the spring. Many people in the community opposed the expansion.

Planning Board lawyer Allen Porter said schools, including charter schools, are exempt from planning board regulations, with the exception of conditional use regulations. A conditional use is a zoning exception that allows a property owner use of his land in a way not otherwise permitted within the particular zoning district.The charter school and the public schools are all located in residential zones.

The trailer hearing raised bigger issues about the requirements for the charter school and the Princeton Public Schools to come before the planning board for approvals. A lawyer for the charter school said the charter school is a public school, and asked that the school be treated the same way as the Princeton Public Schools by the planning board.

“I reviewed the files and saw after we applied for our trailers, the Princeton Public Schools applied for four trailers, and the application was stamped administratively approved,” Charter School Lawyer Richard Schkolnick said. “There  were no lawyers, no traffic experts involved. We reasonably ask for equal treatment. They were not asked about their enrollment but we were asked about ours.”

Schkolnick also said the charter school has come before the planning board for conditional use approvals several times, but he reviewed municipal records and the Princeton Public Schools have never been required to receive such conditional use approvals.

“There s no evidence that the Princeton Public Schools has ever sought, secured, or been required to seek conditional use approval. I’m not sure why,”  Schkolnick said. ” I’m confident we’ve satisfied all the standards assuming they apply. But I believe we should not have been required to come before the board. Never in the history have they come before board for conditional use approval even though their use is a conditional use just like us.”

The board briefly discussed the conditional use issue, then members requested that it be discussed at a later date.



Questions from planning board members about the application for the trailers were mostly about the traffic impact. According to experts for the charter school, the additional students will have a minor impact on traffic. Planning Board Member David Cohen asked if the school has considered staggering the start and end times at the upper and lower school. A representative for the charter school said the school is looking into it.

About a dozen charter school parents attended the hearing. Parent Rachael Selig said if traffic is an issue, parents can find a solution and carpool.
Parent Tony Gleason told the board the charter school expansion is a contentious issue in town, and he asked the board to be fair and balanced when making a decision. He expressed concerns about the board’s objectivity given that all the members are appointed by the mayor. “Given mayor’s well known opposition to the charter school, I hope each of you will give us a fair shake,” he said.
Porter and planning board chair Wanda Gunning tried to assure Gleason that everyone could be fair. “We’re not supposed to discuss applications even among ourselves,” Gunning said. “We make decisions as things unfold. We learn new things that astonish us and make us look at things differently.”