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P&Z Approves Use Of Gordon Fraser Property By Montessori School

BY ANDREW GOROSKO

Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members have approved a zoning amendment

requested by the Newtown Montessori Society which allows it to proceed with

planning to relocate Newtown Montessori School from cramped quarters in

Dodgingtown to the larger former Gordon Fraser Gallery at 173 South Main

Street.

P&Z members July 15 unanimously approved Montessori's request for an amendment

to the zoning regulations which allows a private school to seek a special

exception to the regulations to locate in a M-2 Industrial zone, such as the

one at 173 South Main Street.

The P&Z's approval of the zoning amendment comes in the face of opposition to

the proposal from the Economic Development Commission (EDC) whose members had

recommended against approving the amendment because they fear the local

property tax base will be damaged by having a currently taxed industrial

building converted for use as a non-taxable private school. The owners of the

property currently pay about $43,000 annually in property taxes.

In their motion to approve the zoning amendment, P&Z members decided "Private

schools are found to be a community benefit which provide educational choice

for residents and enhance the quality of life in the community and the

region." P&Z members also agreed that private schools are compatible with uses

that are permitted in M-2 Industrial zones. Locating private schools in M-2

zones will minimize the impact on local infrastructure including streets,

sewers and water supplies, according to the P&Z.

P&Z members also agreed that allowing a private school in a M-2 zone is

consistent with the town's Plan of Development and Conservation.

In discussion on the requested zoning amendment before the vote, P&Z Chairman

Daniel Fogliano said that although schools are exempt from paying local

property taxes, the benefits of having the Montessori School located on South

Main Street far outweigh the loss of local tax revenue.

P&Z member Stephen Koch said it is likely the current Montessori facility in

Dodgingtown will be purchased by some group which will pay taxes on the

property. Having local children attend the Montessori School also decreases

the level of local spending which would be necessary if those children

attended local public schools, he said. The presence of a local Montessori

School attracts people to Newtown, he added.

P&Z member Heidi Winslow complimented the Montessori Society for not seeking a

change of the zoning designation for 173 South Main Street to locate a school

there. "The approach that's been taken is the optimum one," she said.

Mr Fogliano said "I am in favor of this. It would be a benefit to the town."

Member Lilla Dean added the South Main Street site will provide good

accessibility for a school.

About 100 Newtown Montessori School parents and students pressed the P&Z to

approve the requested zoning amendment on July 1.

Attorney James Mannion, representing Montessori, has told P&Z members the

school needs to relocate to the South Main Street building to expand

operations and better meet the educational needs of its students and the

community. The loss of revenue which would occur by converting the building to

non-taxable status would be more than offset by a savings in public

educational costs to Newtown, according to Mr Mannion.

The school has an option to buy the former Fraser building which has a $2.1

million price.

The Montessori School is now expected to seek a special exception to the

zoning regulations from the P&Z to relocate the school.

Myriam Woods, head of the Montessori School, has said the school had sought a

residentially zoned site for relocation for a decade but found nothing

suitable.