"TREES LEAD TO FOREST FIRES, SO LET'S CUT THEM DOWN AND BUILD HOUSES"

"Trees lead to forest fires. Let's cut them down and build duplexes instead", said Brian Flannery.

This time though, Lakewood Township's Zoning Board didn't easily buy Brian's story.

An application was presented this week to Lakewood Township's Zoning Board for permission to construct 3 duplex structures (6 houses plus basements) on a new road off Chestnut Street near Andrew's Corner.

The application actually should not have even been allowed to be presented to the Board this week as the application required a Use Variance and it was only advertised for Preliminary and Major Subdivision approval - but the Board quietly let that issue slide by.

The Township's existing zoning ordinance for this area only permits Single Family homes on 20,000 sq feet lots. The application seeked to build duplexes on 10,000 sq feet lots.

In the 2017 Master Plan, the Township Committee agreed to rezone this area to permit duplexes, but only once Route 9 as well as the county-owned corridors in Lakewood are sufficiently widened to improve traffic flow all around town.

The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law permits Zoning Board's to grant use variances solely "in particular cases for special reasons".

To meet the criteria for the "particular cases for special reasons" that the Board should grant the use variance to permit the duplexes, Brian Flannery, Engineer and Planner for the applicant told the Board, "trees lead to forest fires. Let's cut them down and build duplexes instead".

The MLUL specifically delineates that the Zoning Board may not grant any variance without a showing that "such variance or other relief can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance."

A neighboring resident who is also a member of Lakewood's Board of Fire Commissioners spoke out in fierce opposition to the granting of the use variance. He questioned the claims of the "benefits" to building more houses, asking "who will benefit from more houses? The builder?"

Another neighboring resident reminded the Board that the Master Plan recommends permitting duplexes in this zone only once many roads in town are widened, and that although the County does have a plan for a traffic signal at the adjacent Chestnut Street and New Hampshire Avenue intersection, that project is still a long way off. The resident called on the Board to "represent the people of Lakewood".

The MLUL requires an affirmative vote of at least five Board members in order to grant a use variance. Ultimately, the application fell short of receiving 5 affirmative votes.

Board members originally made a motion to permit 4 houses to be built now with the remaining 2 houses to be built only once the new traffic signal is installed. Board chairman Abe Halberstam and members Moish Lankry and Avraham Naftali voted in favor of that proposal, while board members Moish Glieberman, Judah Ribiat, and Mordy Gross voted against that proposal.

A single board member then attempted to make a motion to 4 duplex units and 1 single family house in lieu of the proposed duplex structure. No other board member put forth a "second" to this motion and so the motion failed.

Board member Mordy Gross then spoke out against the use variance request, noting the traffic congestion already in the are due to the existing high density.

The Board offered the applicant to return in the future with a redesign of the plan.

 WATCH: Lakewood Zoning Board hearing the above application

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