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Lakewood Township's Planning Board is scheduled tonight to hear a pretty aggressive office building application.

The former Charlie Brown's restaurant which used to be located at 400 Chestnut Street with an additional driveway on Route 70, has since been demolished and converted to a single story, 11,420 sq foot office building.

Lakewood Township's zoning ordinances for the B-5 district require office buildings to provide 1 off-street parking space per 250 sq feet of gross floor area. At this rate, this building would be required to provide 45.68 (46) parking spaces. This building's parking lot currently contains 162 parking spaces.

The 3.05 acre parcel of land also contains empty space along the Chestnut Street frontage, which is located between Bais Malka D'Chasidei Belz and another new construction office building.

Developer Eliezer Friedman of Chestnut 70 Realty, LLC has submitted Application SP 2489 to the Lakewood Township Planning Board seeking approval to construct on the Chestnut Street frontage a new, 3-story office building, which will contain a total of 29,640 sq feet of gross floor area.

This new building would require 118.56 (119) off-street parking spaces. Together with the existing 1-story office building, the complete parcel would require 164.24 parking spaces. As noted above, there are currently 162 parking spaces on the site - and the developer is not proposing to install any additional parking spaces for this new building! As such, from a legal standpoint the Planning Board would need to grant a parking variance of 2 spaces in order to permit this new building to be constructed. (From a realistic view point, of course no office building in Lakewood has sufficient parking, and the more office space the building has the worse the parking situation is, but the Planning Board's hands are tied beyond to require according to the Township ordinance. See previous article here regarding the Township Committee's continued refusal to the Planning Board's requests to require additional parking for office buildings).

Aside from this parking variance, as currently submitted, the application seeks design waivers from providing curb and sidewalk along Route 70, street trees along Route 70, driveway width (their driveway is wider than permitted under the Township ordinance), on‐site curb, as well as from providing the required buffer adjacent to the school.

Additionally, the application also seeks a minimum Front Yard Setback Variance of 68 feet where 100 feet is required. As shown in the photo below, the proposed building is located heavily within the Front Yard Setback towards Chestnut Street.

If the Board were to deny this variance, the building would need to be considerably smaller, effectively halting the construction plan.

Their legal notice, which was prepared by Attorney Miriam Weinstein, also discloses that the "applicant further seeks such other variances and/or design waivers that the Board may require as may be disclosed on the plans".

Under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL - NJSA 40:55D-70), in order to be granted the variances and waivers that are necessary for approval of this application, the applicant's professionals would need to testify that such deviations would "advance the purposes of the MLUL" and "the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh any detriment".

Let's take a look and see if they can sufficiently accomplish that goal.

The MLUL, (NJSA 40:55D-2) states:

It is the intent and purpose of this act:

a.   To encourage municipal action to guide the appropriate use or development of all lands in this State, in a manner which will promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare;

c.   To provide adequate light, air and open space;

d.   To ensure that the development of individual municipalities does not conflict with the development and general welfare of neighboring municipalities, the county and the State as a whole;

e.   To promote the establishment of appropriate population densities and concentrations that will contribute to the well-being of persons, neighborhoods, communities and regions and preservation of the environment;

g.   To provide sufficient space in appropriate locations for a variety of agricultural, residential, recreational, commercial and industrial uses and open space, both public and private, according to their respective environmental requirements in order to meet the needs of all New Jersey citizens;

i.   To promote a desirable visual environment through creative development techniques and good civic design and arrangement;

j.   To promote the conservation of historic sites and districts, open space, energy resources and valuable natural resources in the State and to prevent urban sprawl and degradation of the environment through improper use of land.

Noting that this application seeks a Minimum Front Yard Setback Variance of 68 feet where 100 feet is required, it's quite difficult to envision how the deviation of this variance "advances the purposes of the MLUL" and how "the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh any detriment" as the intent and purposes of the MLUL is to "provide adequate light, air and open space" and "to provide sufficient space in appropriate locations" and "to promote a desirable visual environment", and the whole purpose of setbacks is to ensure that one building does not infringe on another building's right to sunlight, ventilation, greenery and vehicular access; hence, the granting of the requested Minimum Front Yard Setback Variance, which would do just the opposite, seems to accomplish the very opposite of the intent and purpose of the MLUL!

Even if the applicant can sufficiently testify that "the benefits of the deviation (which would bring a new office building to Lakewood) would substantially outweigh any detriment", it seems he fails on the first prong which is that the deviations would "advance the purposes of the MLUL".

The application includes a Traffic Study which was conducted by Traffic Experts McDonough & Rea Associates Inc. (which is the firm which conducts traffic studies for nearly all land use board applications in Lakewood).

The traffic study found that the peak hours of traffic along Chestnut Street and Route 70 are 8:30-9:30am and 5:00-6:00pm, with Chestnut Street eastbound having 451 vehicles, and westbound having 437 vehicles respectively during the morning peak hour, and eastbound having 258 vehicles and westbound 481 vehicles during the afternoon peak hour; and Route 70 westbound having 962 vehicles during the morning peak hour, and 1,460 vehicles during the afternoon peak hour.

The traffic study magically decided that during this morning peak hour, only 31 vehicles will enter this site and 10 vehicles will exit, and during this afternoon peak hour only 10 vehicles will enter and 30 will exit - and that this traffic will be divided 50/50 between the Chestnut Street driveway and the Route 70 driveway. (How do these experts have any clue about this? Ah... This is the secret that makes them the true experts on Lakewood traffic!)

The traffic study continues to calculate that this additional traffic (which they magically decided) will not have any major impact on either Route 70 or Chestnut Street, and that "plans for the proposed office building on the subject property can be approved and operate compatibility with existing and future traffic volumes in the area. The Chestnut Street and Route 70 study locations will operate at acceptable levels of service during both the AM and PM peak street hours".

[Coincidentally, the traffic study failed to highlight the actual vehicular traffic coming in and out of the office building which is already existing on this site - likely because the traffic experts don't want to admit that there is already way more than 40 vehicles entering and exiting during these peak hours.]

The application was originally placed on the Board's agenda for Tuesday night, November 15th. It was carried to tonight's meeting.

If approved by the Planning Board, the developer would also need to receive an approval or letter of no interest from the New Jersey Department of Transportation as well as from the Ocean County Planning Board as to the driveways on their respective roadways.

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