On June 8 Clay Kaufman head of a new private school set to open in September, The Cedar School, again represented himself before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
He sought final site plan approval to change the use of the property from office to school.
The proposed school will be at 200 Pemberwick Rd, opposite Arch in Bloom. The school’s entrance will be via Comly Ave.
A previous P&Z commission had approved a 21-unit residential development on the Comly Avenue side of the site, but it was never built.
The owner of the property is Aldo Pascarella.
Head of School, Mr. Kaufman ran a similar school, The Siena School, in Maryland for 12 years. More recently he was head of school at Eagle Hill in Greenwich from June 2019 to June 2020.
The site is split across the Byram River, and is located in a Flood Zone. There is a dam up-river.
Since the May P&Z meeting, the applicant submitted requested details on his drop off and pick up and a firm count of the number of spaces. He submitted “substantial improvement” data required for a building permit (Once the applicant’s building improvements exceed 50% of the property’s value, the building must be brought into compliance with the flood zone regulations.)
He also provided details on how school traffic would be separate from commercial tenant traffic on the other side of the site.
The applicant said students would not drive themselves to school, and they anticipated families would carpool, but he said in future they might want to allow seniors to drive to school.
P&Z Chair Margarita Alban noted the applicant anticipated 25 students in the first year. The approved site plan says there are 210 parking spaces but the applicant’s materials showed 190 spaces.
Alban said the commission received photos of contractor vehicles in the school’s parking lot, creating an unsafe situation for the school children.
“The vehicles are apparently overflow from the (Castle View Deli),” Alban said. “We ask that you consider installing a gate so only building employees and parents can access the parking lot…People are busy in the morning, they’re in a hurry, and that’s not good for your kids.”
She said the town Sewer Dept asked for confirmation that there are no plumbing fixtures in the flood zone.
Also, she explained that any questions about the dam fall under the purview of the DEEP, not P&Z. She said DEEP had a comment that when the Byram River rises it is dangerous. “They made the comment that you should closely monitor potential flood events because it is a dangerous high velocity floodway. We would ask you when you have an upcoming storm event that you have an emergency evacuation plan prepped.”
Kaufman said his school would rehearse that plan with students.
“If we were to decide this in your favor, we would say that you meet all your requirements, and if the property owner is required to fulfill obligations to the State regarding the dam because of the risks associated, we conditioned our approval on that property owner’s obligation to do so,” Alban said.
As for PE class, Mr. Kaufman said he was still working to find facilities and fields to use. “It’s in process. In meantime we have secured permission from the Boys & Girls Club to rent some space. We have several options there.”
“We won’t have any home games. We have a schedule of games we’ll be playing at other schools that have fields,” he continued, adding that the school will have four vans for transporting students.
The only comment from the public was from a parent who supported the school.
Marla Bier said she supported the school and “loved the idea about the gate.”
Conditions of approval:
That the first year the number of students be limited to 25 students, with a gradual increase thereafter.
That hours of operation be restricted to 8:00am to 4:00am five days a week, with some occasional events for parents nights.
That the applicant consider if necessary, the gate for the parking lot and card access, and return to staff for administrative review on that.
That 45 parking spaces be made available to staff.
That the parking lot be re-striped for 210 spaces, and include parking for 4 vans.
That the applicant return to P&Z staff if they want to allow seniors to drive to school.
That prior to zoning permit issuance, the applicant provide confirmation of use agreements of any municipal facility or playing field for their PE program.
That flood events be monitored.
That employee density not exceed184 people.
That the applicant have a flood evacuation plan and rehearse it given that DEEP noted the adjacent Byram River was a dangerous high velocity floodway.
That the applicant provide confirmation that are no plumbing features in the lower building levels in the flood zone.
That the property owner is required to fulfill obligations to the state regarding the dam.
The dam was not part of P&Z’s purview, but rather that of the State of Connecticut.
“We are Switzerland on who owns the dam and who has responsibilities. What we’re saying is if there is a finding that someone has a responsibility, that they have to comply with it. We know this is a confusing issue. We know the property owner has told us they have no liability whatsoever. DEEP has said yes there is. We’re saying if some court decides, then you have to do it. Otherwise we have nothing to do with it.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve the school’s final site plan.
May 26, 2021