WILL LAKEWOOD'S PLANNING BOARD REQUIRE DEVELOPERS TO UPHOLD THEIR ASSURANCE OF AN ADDITIONAL ROAD?

Developers for Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey have submitted a Site Plan application to Lakewood Township's Planning Board for a new yeshiva campus at 105 Newport Avenue, off Cross Street.


The yeshiva purchased this property 1 year ago from Planning Board Member Justin Flancbaum.


The application was supposed to be presented to the Board this week, however, Board Administrator Ally Morris notified the Board that the applicant failed to publish legal notices and so the application needed to carried to the next meeting on July 12.


Once this application was mentioned for purposes of being carried, Board Chairman Moshe Neiman reminded the applicant's professionals that at an earlier application on this road, the Board was "assured" that before the next school gets approved on this block, there would be an additional access way to get to Newport Avenue.


Back on March 1, 2022, the Planning Board approved a Site Plan for a large child care center at 220 Newport Avenue. The application was contentious with numerous neighbors presenting pedestrian, traffic safety and congestion concerns, especially as many parents would be driving down the narrow road for pick-up and drop-offs.


The application originally showed plans for an oversized "unfinished basement". Some neighbors retained Brick Attorney Joseph Michelini of the O’Malley, Surman & Michelini firm to represent them in opposing the application, especially due to concerns that there would be a banquet hall in the basement. Mr. Michelini successfully negotiated an agreement that there will not be a rentable banquet hall in the basement.


Board Member Moshe Raitsik echoed many of the same traffic flow concerns expressed by the neighbors. In response, Builder Abe Aurbach of Regency Development told the Board that "while this is out of our hands" there were "3 more schools coming to 'this area' and we are actively pursuing 'several ways' to get an additional entranceway to Newport Avenue."


At the conclusion of the hearing, Board Chairman Moshe Neiman assured the neighbors that although the Board was going to approve this child care center, "when the next school coming to this block wants to get approved, I'm not saying it will get approved, we may say that we need to first wait until the road has an additional entranceway".


Chairman Neiman also noted that schools will "work harder" to get an additional entranceway to Newport Avenue, saying "the message will get out there - because Mr. Aurbach is here now - that if you want to build a school here, let's work on opening Newport Avenue out to Jackson Township or Franklin Blvd."


To endear themselves to the Board, and to address concerns of the many vehicles driving down the narrow road, the developers of the child care center agreed to widen the entire stretch of Newport Avenue to 32 feet.


Several neighbors requested that the developers for the child care center also be required to install a sidewalk along the entire road.


Board Attorney John Jackson told the Board that it would not be unreasonable for the Board to require sidewalks on the rest of Newport Avenue as the Board can require off‐site improvements when they are necessitated by the application. 


In response, Chairman Neiman said that it's enough that we got a wide street and water and sewer out of this child care center and therefore we won't also require them to install a sidewalk along the entire road, however "we may require the next school approval on the block to install a sidewalk along the entire road.


At this week's Board hearing, when it was mentioned that the application for Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey would need to be carried, Chairman Neiman asked about the "promised" additional entranceway to Newport Avenue.


In response, Attorney Adam Pfeffer who represented the Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey application quickly responded that "we will deal with all of that at the next meeting, but this is an existing school, already under construction".


Huh?? What in the world is Attorney Adam Pfeffer saying??


Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey, which is led by its Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Sholom Strickman, is currently located in a trailer at 411 Cross Street near Massachusetts Avenue.


The plans submitted for the new location at 105 Newport Avenue propose to build a new building for the yeshiva with a banquet hall, and gut the existing house and convert it into a dormitory, and to also build 2 houses for faculty members.


The application has not even been presented to the Planning Board so nothing can yet be considered "already under construction".


While we are on the topic, banquet halls and school dormitories are not permitted uses in this zone. Additionally, the zone does permit Single Family Houses on 40,000 sq feet lots. As currently submitted, the faculty homes are duplexes on much smaller lots. Additionally, the houses are "flag lots" as do not front a public road, and Lakewood's ordinances no longer permit any flag lots.


As such, we are very unsure how the Planning Board can even claim jurisdiction on this application as only the Zoning Board of Adjustment can grant use variances for the non-permitted uses.


If the Planning Board does somehow decide that they can hear this application, will they ensure that the developers uphold their word to provide an additional access to Newport Avenue??


Oh, and by the way, Planning Board Member Justin Flancbaum definitely needs to recuse himself on this application as he was the seller of the house to the yeshiva. (And by the way, guess who was the attorney on the sale? That's right - Adam Pfeffer. Does this mean that Justin should recuse himself from every application which is presented by Adam??)


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