Byram rezones former school property


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By Thomas Bias

— The Byram Township Council unanimously adopted an ordinance to rezone the former Byram Consolidated School as multifamily residential at its meeting on Dec. 18.

This is the first step to allowing the 77-year-old building to be redeveloped as an apartment complex by new owner Gerard Simeone.

Simeone, an attorney specializing in real estate transactions, paid $18,500 for the building at auction.

Deed restrictions on the property require that the building be used for educational, religious or civic purposes.

Byram Township had hoped to convert the building into a civic center. A church organization also expressed an interest in attaining it, but both parties determined it was not feasible due to high maintenance costs at about $50,000 per year even while vacant.

Built in 1936, the school sits on a 5.2 acre tract of land at 55 Lackawanna Drive and was donated by the late Thomas and Ella Sweeney.

Originally it had two classrooms on the second floor and an assembly room on the lower floor.

Expansions made in 1951 and 1957 resulted in an additional 18,000 square feet and 14 classrooms.

The facility has not been used by the Byram public schools for more than 10 years. And Celebrate the Children, a private school, occupied the building at one point but moved to a new location in 2009.

At the meeting, Byram Township Planner Paul Gleitz explained Simeone's plans and the township requirements needed for it to be approved.

A number of Byram residents who live on or near Lackawanna Drive expressed concerns about the rezoning namely water usage and the impact on the wells on other properties.

Gleitz explained that the developer would have to guarantee that the apartment complex had an adequate source of water for its residents without depleting the aquifer to the detriment of the neighboring residents.

Other concerns were noise, parking and traffic, and asbestos removal during the renovation process.

In response to a question concerning the deed restrictions imposed by the original donation of the property, township attorney Thomas Collins explained that it would require a court challenge and the issuance of an injunction to stop the redevelopment of the building as a multifamily dwelling.

Gleitz and Collins both explained that the rezoning of the property was only a first step, and the developer had to come before the planning board to satisfy its members that the redevelopment was consistent with Byram’s master plan and meets all of the township’s requirements

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