Planning Board Approves Mary Jacobs Foundation’s Plans for a New Sign, a Patio, and a New Entrance
By Rikki N. Massand l December 14, 2022
The Rocky Hill Planning Board approved an application from the Mary Jacobs Foundation on November 15 for proposed improvements to the former library building at 64 Washington Street, including a concrete patio and associated sidewalks, new entrance doors, and new signs on the southerly side of the existing building.
At the virtual meeting, the planning board considered the application for a minor site plan and major historic preservation plan for the property. Rocky Hill Planning Board Engineer Thomas R. Decker, who is an associate with Van Cleef Engineering, filed a technical review document with the borough presenting the following comments on the foundation’s plans. The foundation should testify as to whether the site provides sufficient parking to meet the needs of the site’s proposed uses. The parking lot is shared [with the Rocky Hill Community Group]. Any approval should be conditioned on the provision of adequate parking to serve the community group and the foundation.
The property is located in the CL Community Land Zoning District. Permitted uses in the CL Community Land District include public parks, municipal offices and storage facilities, and public utilities. Conditional uses in the CL Community Land district include the following per Ordinance §80-94D(1): Public libraries, facilities for community and civic groups, cemeteries, facilities for fire and rescue emergency services owned and operated by nonprofit organizations, public and private nursery schools, and group homes serving low- and moderate-income households and in compliance with all regulations of the Council on Affordable Housing. “A separate application to the [Rocky Hill] Planning Board must be made if uses proposed by future tenants are outside the permitted or conditional uses defined in §80-94. A use variance may be required,” Decker wrote.
The plans for now simply include the creation of a second entrance way, where the former children’s room windows faced Route 518. The also include a concrete slab that would serve as an outdoor seating/reading area in place of green space. The application is approved with conditions for addressing items raised by the borough professionals and regarding the calculated boundary of the adjacent property owned by the Rocky Hill Community Group (at the historic Amy Garrett House).
Former Rocky Hill Mayor Phil Kartsonis, who now lives in Ocean City and is a trustee of the MJF, said the new patio and the look of the exterior will present an amenity to the community, with the continuation of the Mary Jacobs building opening as a “walkable community branch” of the Somerset County Library System. The second entrance would lead to sealed-off reading room of about one-third the size of the old library. This would be about the size of the former children’s library. The door itself would have a portico, or covering, and an outdoor area that would be a host venue for a summer concert series, some children’s programs, and other activities appropriate for the ‘open air’ settings.
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The former Mary Jacobs Memorial Library used to partner with the Somerset County Library system to host a regular summer concert series on the front lawn, under the trees. Jeffrey Reynolds, vice president of The Reynolds Group, a civil engineering and landscape architecture firm, presented the MJF’s plans to the planning board. He repeated, on many occasions during the November 15 hearing, that “at this time there are no proposed tenants” for the former Mary Jacobs Memorial Library building. He left the door open, though, for the potential of another application for the building to come forth; or for a mixeduse element aside from a public library.
In addition to the approval of the new entrance, the planning board granted the request for demolition of the existing vertical sign on Route 518 stating “Mary Jacobs Memorial Library.” MJF president and Rocky Hill resident Cary Dawson said the sign is held together by duct tape. Newly sworn-in planning board member Connie Hallman asked about the new language of the sign, and suggested the inclusion of the word “library” the public or passers-by on Route 518 would know the building contains a library. Trustee Kartsonis answered that he would take that suggestion back to the MJF board.
Somerset County Library System Administrator Brian Auger testified that the new, significantly smaller branch library that would comprise a third of the total building, as outlined in an agreement with MJF and the town of Rocky Hill, would be staffed by two county employees when the building reopens – for a total of 20 hours per week. It is not yet decided if the library will be open Mondays through Saturdays or a variety of those days, and the exact hours open per day are also not yet decided. Auger said the new Mary Jacobs branch is set to open some time in 2023, perhaps in spring. It could represent a new, attractive, community-centric smaller county library branch to replicate in other Somerset County towns with walkable areas. The activities it will host will be “exciting and innovative.”
The MJF representatives on the call spoke about the goals of making the space a central part of Rocky Hill’s community, as it used to be when it was a fully functioning public library. The planning board’s vote of approval was unanimous, following a motion made by Planning Board Member Denise Varga. She moved for the board to grant approval of the application “on the condition that the applicant’s professionals submit to the Planning Board Planner and Engineer any information that is required to satisfy any issues that the Planning Board professionals have raised in their review of the application and provide final plans that are consistent with what the Planning Board is approving as well as the calculations by separate lots.”
The official resolution of approval for the Foundation’s application was expected to be introduced, finalized and adopted at the Tuesday, December 13 Planning Board meeting.