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Lakewood Township's Zoning Board this week rushed through - and nearly unanimously approved - an application seeking to add 300 cars to Lanes Mill Road, one of the last remaining empty lots adjacent to the Lakewood / Brick border. The Township's existing zoning ordinances permit for less than half the amount of homes on this tract.

The application is ZB 4221, GM Lanes Mill LLC. Curiously, there was no Affidavit of Ownership provided to the public as is typically provided as part of every Zoning Board application. There also was no traffic study submitted. This should have been an obvious prerequisite to seeking to double the density, but the Zoning Board members simply kept their eyes tight shut. Curious minds wonder if the Zoning Board services all residents of Lakewood or only special developers...

The 17.23 acres site is on the northbound side of Lanes Mill Road near the Lanes Mill Road / Lanes Mill Road intersection. It is located in the R-20 zone which only permits Single Family Houses on 20,000 sq feet lots. At the very maximum, 35 single family homes can legally fit on this tract, and even less once you include roadways, a drainage system and the 5% open space the Township requires.

The Zoning Board saw fit to grant a Use Variance to permit up to 74 units on this tract. Engineer Brian Flannery testified that at least 36% of the units (26 units) will be townhomes, 59% of the units (43 units) will be duplexes, and 4% of the units (3 units) will be single family homes. The application also proposes a 4,100 sq foot Shul as well as 2 playgrounds.

All homes are proposed on approximately 10,000 sq feet lots - double the density currently permitted under the Township zoning ordinances - and with a rental apartment in the basement.

This approval will bring an additional 300 cars to this corridor which is heavily traveled by commuters heading to and from the Garden State Parkway ramp in Brick Township.

This is only a bifurcated application, which means that the Board only granted Use Variance relief which gives the applicant permission to build duplexes and townhouses in a zone which only permits single family homes (up to the maximum of 74 units). Prior to any construction, the applicant would need to return to the Board at a later date with a full Site Plan which would show a specific amount of units, size of the shul, as well as the playgrounds AND SUFFICIENT PARKING FOR EACH OF THE USES.

Board Chairman Abe Halberstam rushed through the application, stating simply that this increased density will work here because Lanes Mill Road is an open wide road and traffic will flow nicely.

Board Member Avraham Naftali enthusiastically claimed that the first time in a while, the Board is fortune enough to approve a development with townhomes which "for the first time, will actually be affordable for current Lakewood residents instead of only for New Yorkers".

Board Member Moish Ingber, who voted against the application, vehemently opposed the plan saying that Lanes Mill Road is too busy for the increased traffic, and that duplexes are out of character for the adjoining Raintree neighborhood which is mainly larger, single family homes. He also argued that if the applicant truly wants to build affordable homes he should build only townhomes and no duplexes.

No members of the public rose to make any comments, in support of, or against, the application.

All board members besides for Moish Ingber voted to approve the application.

The Board likely lacked jurisdiction to grant this Use Variance approval.

Engineer Brian Flannery testified that the "benefits of the granting of the use variance substantially outweigh any detriments".

As proof of the "benefits" Mr. Flannery cited the Township Committee's 2017 Master Plan which claims that the Township has an insatiable need to increase housing and the granting of the Use Variance slightly feeds this insatiable need.

This "proof" is good for a standard bulk variance at the Planning Board (known as a C2 variance under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) where the zone permits 3 houses and the application seeks to build 4 houses.

However, the MLUL (NJSA 40:55d-70d) clearly states that a Zoning Board may only grant a Use Variance if the applicant provides testimony that this is "a particular case for special reasons". In this case, the applicant failed to provide this critical testimony. (Hint: Because we will earn a lot of money does not meet this criteria).

Additionally, the MLUL (NJSA 40:55d-12) requires applicants on applications for development involving property located within 200 feet of an adjoining municipality to provide legal notice of the hearing to the clerk of such municipality. This project is adjacent to the Brick Township border. Yet, from reviewing the Certified Mail list, it appears that the applicant did not send notice to the Brick Township municipal clerk.

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