By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The township planning board continued Wednesday night with what promises to a very lengthy and continually controversial application for the proposed permanent campus for Trinity Hall girls’ school on Chapel Hill Road.
The board conducted its third hearing on the application, before an exceptionally large audience that overflowed the meeting room in town hall, 1 Kings Highway. A uniformed police officer and fire marshal were on hand to ensure the room didn’t exceed maximum capacity.
The audience was very attentive and remained mostly at full capacity through much of the long hearing. There were competing T-shirts in the crowd, clearly defining on which side of the controversy the wearer fell. Opponents wore shirts with the words “Trinity Hall” in a red circle and slash, while school supporters were clad in orange shirts with the school’s name or various pieces of orange clothing, the school’s color.
During the more than 3-hour sparring match opposition attorney Ron Gasiorowski went toe-to-toe with the school’s attorney, John Giunco. Gasiorowski and some skeptical area residents challenged project engineer Brian Decina over what the proposed large project would mean for the residential neighborhood and for what they say is an environmentally sensitive property
Lisa Johnson, a Chapel Hill Road homeowner, told Decina and the board, “I pay a lot of money to live here,” insisting, “I’m not going to back down” in her opposition. She said she feared the runoff from the proposed complex would dangerously impact the well water she uses for drinking.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Settembrino, who sits on the board, recuse himself Wednesday night. He stepped down at the recommendation of board attorney James Gorman because as Trinity Hall and the township have a landlord-tenant arrangement.
Trinity Hall, an independently operated all-girls’ secondary school touted as operating “in the Catholic tradition,” is currently operating out of township-owned Croydon Hall, Leonardo.
School officials are hoping to construct a campus facility, with various educational and extracurricular-activities structures, on roughly 37 acres of an approximately 64-acre undeveloped and largely wooded site on Chapel Hill Road.
Residents in the area have been expressing their objections to the project, believing it will negatively impact their quality of life, traffic safety and the area’s environment.
Supporters maintain the school poses a benefit to the area with the project being a better choice than others that could be constructed there.
The board will continue to hear the application at its April 23 meeting.