By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Montclair Kimberley Academy last week won zoning approval to replace its six tennis courts with five new ones, but a developer was sent back to the drawing board over his plan to turn a house on Plymouth Street into an eight-unit dwelling,

The Township Zoning Board of Approval granted several variances sought by Montclair Kimberley for aging courts at its 8.2-acre Valley Road Middle School campus. The courts are at the northeast corner of the property, at the intersection of Brunswick Road and Central Avenue.

The private school essentially plans to have the new regulation-sized tennis courts neatly situated next to each other, so that they are not scattered over the site in three areas the way the old courts are currently. The school will also replace an existing open pavilion, used for shelter for the courts and an adjoining ball field, with a new one.

At the hearing attorney Alan Trembulak, representing the school, called engineer Robert Walsh as a witness to describe the way the layout of the tennis courts will be refigured, reduced by one with the new ones clustered together. Five courts are required to host competitions, according to Walsh.

The courts, which date back to at least 1972, now need repair, as does their fencing, he told the board, and Montclair Kimberley’s work will solve those problems. The renovation will also address a safety issue, eliminating a depression in the land between the tennis courts and the ball field, Walsh said. Having one less tennis court will also provide more open space on the campus, he said.

Another witness, Kathryn Davison, Montclair Kimberley Middle School chief financial officer, addressed board member Joseph Fleischer’s concern that the proposed changes would mean an intensification of the use of the courts. The school eliminating its sixth court, used for exhibitions, “is actually reducing the capacity of our program,” she said.

The work on the courts will take six to eight weeks to complete and be done when school isn’t in session, Davison said.

The school had also sought have a 6-foot-high ornamental fence by the tennis court area, replacing a 10-foot-high chain-link one, but the board rejected that request. It mandated that the replacement fence be 4.5 feet high.

Montclair Kimberley is also planning to undertake several improvements at its Brookside campus on Orange Road, including building a “cafetorium” as well as additional parking space, but had not made its application to the Planning Board as of April 19.

At its meeting the board also began hearing an application by 21 Plymouth Street Montclair LLC, led by Glen Ridge developer Henry Szwed, seeking approvals to create eight luxury apartments at 21 Plymouth St., a three-story house. After the board and neighbors raised questions about so many units being squeezed into the structure, Szwed's attorney, Bruce Rosenberg,  asked that the matter be adjourned and taken up again at the board’s June 21 meeting.

Szwed's architect, Yogesh Mistry, testified that the ground floor is currently used as a doctor’s office, with a two-bedroom dwelling on both the second and third floors. The proposed revisions would create seven two-bedrooms and one studio, with the apartments ranging from 678 square feet to 855 square feet. One unit would be dedicated to affordable housing. There would be four apartments on the first floor, two on the second floor and the studio on the third floor, with the eighth unit in a lower basement level, Mistry said.

The developer was also seeking approval to create a 14-space parking lot on the side of the house. Board members, including Fleischer, raised concerns about the plans, with the additional apartments requiring more parking and air conditioning units, creating “a cascading” effect.

“I don’t understand why you’re trying to stuff so much onto this site,” Fleischer said.