CRANFORD, NJ — Trinity Church of Cranford has revoked its application to expand its parking lot, after learning its plans weren’t being supported by a few of its neighbors.
Under the church’s new minister, Rev. Andy Kruger, funds for the parking lot expansion have been redirected to support the church’s facilities and programs at the Trinity Episcopal Day School, located at 119 Forest Ave., Cranford. Church officials plan to use a donation of about 100,000 from parishioner Arthur Patchett to improve the school.
Trinity Episcopal Day School has grown significantly in the past few years.
According to a press release issued by school officials on Friday, May 19, its enrollment has grown from 11 in 2011 to more than 140. The school, which is open to children from 2 to 5 years of age, uses a standard, approved curriculum that promotes learning through play and has a low student-to-teacher ratio, to allow for greater individual attention. The school also offers after-school care for students in first through fifth grades.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, May 23, Tom Kaercher, the school’s communications director, said, “The bathrooms definitely need to be refurbished and … we also need additional licensing from the state, to begin a new program for toddlers and infants. This will require special facilities in each room,” he said, referring to sinks, changing areas and other spaces in need of alterations.
“We also might offer some tuition assistance. There’s a mix of different things we might do to improve the school as it grows. This is a wonderful change of direction for the money to benefit the children.”
For now, the parking situation will remain the same as the church has shelved its plans to increase the size of the lot from six spaces to 17.
“A few years ago, we thought the parking lot should be expanded because most parents were parking on the street to drop off or pick up their children,” Kaercher said. “The school requires that an adult accompany each child into school and to their car. The church parking lot is very small and can only fit about six cars.”
The church expected their neighbors to support the decision, but feedback from them was negative.
“People were speaking at planning and [the Cranford Episcopal school] board meetings against it,” Karcher said. “Two people even hired attorneys.”
Through Kruger’s direction, the church withdrew its application to expand the parking lot after residents expressed their concerns. A group of residents who live on Hamilton and Forest avenues, Sylvester Street and Arlington Road created a Facebook page in opposition of the parking lot.
One reason for the oppositions was the plan for the parking lot to be 7 feet from the road’s edge, although more than 20 feet is the requirement. The residents across the street and along Sylvester Street also expressed that they didn’t want to see blacktop, commercial lights and car lights or smell car exhaust. The parking lot’s entrance and exit on Hamilton Avenue had residents with small children concerned for their safety, due to an increase in traffic.
Trinity Church and engineer Anthony Gallerano started planning the commercial parking lot several years ago, but neighbors have said were never alerted of this, instead claiming that they were informed by certified mail on Oct. 22, 2015, of the Zoning Board meeting on the original application and plans on Nov. 9, 2015, with just two weeks to prepare.
Another concern was the increase in impervious surface on the fringe of a flood zone, to be emptied into the corner sewer inlet and then into the river.
The church claims, however, to have addressed many of these concerns.
“We wanted to reduce traffic by having cars park in the lot, instead of on the street,” Kaercher said. “We also had our engineer build a water-retention system to address the flooding. Our engineer told us that the area is already prone to flooding, because the drain pipe’s diameter is half the size it should be. We would have improved the condition by having two 50-gallon tanks under the parking lot with a meter valve, to allow a certain amount of water to be released at once. This would have been an improvement to as it is now. Lastly, we were going to build a wall of greenery, to block lighting from intruding on our neighbors. Attorneys argued over what kind of plants we should have and that, if we did plant the bushes, that it might be too dark and an intruder could be hiding in the bushes. So we couldn’t win that argument, either way.”
The parking lot application was denied and the funds are planned to be used for the church to expand its school and aftercare programs instead.
“We’ve had to add more programs to meet the needs of our growing population,” Kaercher said. “We added an aftercare program and a growing summer program, with weekly themes. We also had to refurbish the building to meet state requirements.With a donation like this, the church won’t have to fund as much and we have significant expenses to handle the infant and toddler population. The early education programs are meant to be educational and they have a developmental component. It’s not just daycare or babysitting. We want children to be as prepared as possible when they start kindergarten.”
In the near future, the church board will meet with the reverend and Patchett, to decide exactly where the funds should go.