LAKEWOOD PLANNING BOARD BREAKS THEIR WORD AND APPROVES STRICKMAN'S YESHIVA EVEN WITH NO ADDITIONAL ROAD

Were you holding your breath waiting to hear if Lakewood Township's Planning Board will actually require school developers to keep their word about providing an additional access road? Have no fear, the results are here!


The answer is... No!


The Planning Board this week approved a Site Plan application for Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey for their new campus at 105 Newport Avenue off Cross Street.


The yeshiva purchased this property 1 year ago from Planning Board Member Justin Flancbaum (luckily, Justin did not sit on this application as he would have needed to recuse himself).


Their plan is to gut the existing house and convert it into a dormitory, and construct a new building for the yeshiva and to also build 2 tax-exempt houses for faculty members. 


As previously reported here on FAA News (https://www.faanews.com/2022/06/will-lakewoods-planning-board-require.html), back in March, as part of an approval of a large child care center on Newport Avenue, 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.


That 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.


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 assured everyone 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."


Several neighbors requested that the developers of 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".


Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey's application was first mentioned at the Board's meeting in June. At that point it was mentioned that the application would need to be carried due to lack of notice, and Chairman Neiman asked about the "promised" additional entranceway to Newport Avenue.


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


Huh??


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, while the plans submitted by the developers of the yeshiva propose to build - at the new location on Newport Avenue - a new building for the yeshiva and banquet hall, and gut the existing house and convert it into a dormitory, and to also build 2 houses for faculty members. The application had not even been presented to the Planning Board so nothing can yet be considered "already under construction".


What in the world is Attorney Adam Pfeffer saying??


As we previously reported here on FAA News (https://www.faanews.com/2022/07/will-lakewoods-planning-board-uphold.html), we looked further into the matter. Turns out that the developers of the yeshiva received construction permits from the Township construction department to demolish/ gut the interior of the home (the future dormitory) as well as to install a sprinkler system in the house.


The developers were able to receive these permits prior to the Yeshiva receiving Planning Board approval on their Site Plan because these permits are not technically connected to the future construction, i.e. anyone can get permits to demolish a home regardless of whether or not they have approvals to construct anything afterwards, and, anyone can install a sprinkler system even in single family homes which this future dormitory is still considered.


As such, these permits are not required to be predicated by a Planning Board approval.


Ok, so now we know why they can demolish and install a sprinkler system.


However, they can not also claim that this construction work makes the school "already under construction" as no school construction can be done until after the Planning Board grants approval for the Site Plan. 


In other words, they can not have things both ways.


Either way, this week the application was finally presented before the Board, and it was represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer and Engineer Brian Flannery.


Right at the start, board members inquired about the "assurance" of an additional access road to get to Newport Avenue. Mr. Pfeffer responded simply "I was not the attorney on that other application. The only other access would be from Jackson and that township would never agree. Plus, this school is a permitted use."


Hmm.... Indeed, the child care center was represented by Attorney Miriam Weinstein, not Adam Pfeffer. However, the "assurance" was presented by Developer Abe Aurbach of Regency Development, and he should be held accountable for his words.


Board member David Helmreich urged fellow board members to take traffic and safety into consideration, noting that there are already numerous additional schools approved on this dead-end road.


Board member Bruce Stern agreed, and inquired if the Board could retain an independent traffic engineer to do a comprehensive review on this application. Board Attorney John Jackson answered "yes", noting that the Board can also get reimbursed by the applicant for all professionals they need to retain to consider an application.


Board Chairman Moshe Neiman responded this is a Beis Medrash and not an elementary school and therefore a comprehensive traffic report should not be required now.


The board also discussed the architectural plans which depict a 2,208 sq feet Simcha Hall as well as a phase II addition of 1,844 sq feet, in addition to an adjacent 528 sq feet dining room.


The applicant's professionals responded that this was simply an "architect's error" and that there is no Simcha Hall. When pressed by the board members as to why there are 2 separate dining rooms, they clarified that the second dining room is for the faculty family members.


This is quite interesting as the yeshiva's newsletter to their alumni clearly states that they are planning to include a Simcha Hall in the new building.


There is a major difference in this Simcha Hall to those in elementary schools as in elementary schools there are no students parked at the school at night while in a Beis Medrash with many bochurim in the dormitory, they will have many cars already parked in their parking lot at the time of a Simcha.


The Board also discussed the permissibility of the faculty homes. 


The proposed homes are designed as a duplex structure and duplexes are not a permitted use in this zone. At the Plan Review meeting for this application, Board Engineer Dave Magnos mentioned that duplexes are not permitted in this zone and Shuie Schmuckler of NewLines Engineering responded that the architecturals will be revised so they are not duplexes.


L'maaseh, architecturals were never revised.


No worries, Brian Flannery to the rescue!


Brian explained that the Township's Unified Development Ordinance (18-200) defines a "duplex" as "a building on a single lot containing two side-by-side only dwelling units... the entrances for both dwelling units must face a public street", and because these faculty homes are located on the Yeshiva campus, their entrances do not face a public street, as such, these "duplex look-alike homes" can't actually be the "non-permitted duplexes", rather they are simply "faculty homes which are part of a school campus".


Quite interesting. By the way, "faculty homes" are also not actually a permitted use in this zone. Only single family detached homes are permitted on lots of 40,000 sq feet each.


The yeshiva is not planning on waiting for sewer to be installed on the block. The Board permitted them to get a Certificate of Occupancy with a septic tank and they agreed to hook up to sewer when adjacent school developers bring it to the block.


They did agree to install a sidewalk along their frontage of Newport Avenue all the way to Cross Street, and to widen their frontage of the road to 32 feet wide (the child care center previously approved also already agreed to do this road widening).


The application will also require approval from the Ocean County Planning Board. The county received their application back in January and has so far deemed it "incomplete for review". The county will likely require the developers to widen Newport Avenue at Cross Street with right and left turning lanes.


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