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Ocean County officials have recently granted major leeway to Lakewood developers which could ultimately speed up development of 175 homes (and possibly even more) on Cross Street near Massachusetts Avenue in Lakewood, FAA News has learned.

Back in 2014, Developer Moishie Mendlowitz, under the applicant name Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey, received approval from Lakewood Township's Planning Board for an Educational Campus at 411 Cross Street, north of Massachusetts Avenue. This campus included a 3 story yeshiva building, a gymnasium building, a mikvah, 3 multi-family campus housing buildings, and 5 townhouses.

Under the Educational Campus ordinance, this entire campus, including the residential apartments  would need to be owned and developed "only by an institution of higher education and not by or in partnership or in other arrangement with any investor group, construction company, a not for profit entity or any other third party." The Ordinance specifies that an eligible "institution of higher education" needs to be "a not for profit institution of higher education that is a not for profit entity that is fully accredited and licensed by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education of the State of New Jersey and one that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and is devoted to higher education and no other forms of education". Additionally, the Ordinance requires that the housing units on campus must be "proportionate to the educational facilities and that are intended only for faculty and students who will attend or staff the institution's educational facilities and that is adjoining to or within 500 feet of faculty and student housing so as to create a unified campus setting".

In July 2018, Lakewood's Township Committee adopted Ordinance 2018-35 which says: "In all Residential Zoning districts, any tract for which a complete application for a Planned Educational Campus has been filed with the Lakewood Planning Board... re-approval for development of that tract shall be conditionally permitted in accordance with the provisions of the R-7.5 District."

In other words, a developer who has an Educational Campus approval may resubmit for single family homes on 7,500 sq foot lots or duplexes on 10,000 sq foot lots.

Subsequently, on November 24, 2020, Mr. Mendlowitz presented plans to the Township Planning Board to develop a portion of the previously designated Educational Campus with 60 duplex units and 1 single family home.

Despite that the subject site is located within the R-20/12C Residential Cluster Zone District, these duplexes on lots of 10,000 sq feet and 60 feet wide were permitted under the 2018 ordinance.

As shown in the maps below, this application is for homes along the currently unimproved right-of-ways of Lewin Avenue, Beaver Street, Trudy Lane, Nassau Street, and Nussbaum Avenue, off of Cross Street. All these road would be paved with 32 foot wide cartways, which will be dedicated to Lakewood Township as public roads, with curb, sidewalk, landscaping, and street lighting.

No bulk variances were requested on this application. However, the board conditioned the approval on the development including an open space lot for recreational use.

A potable water main currently exists across Cross Street and is proposed to be extended through this project. A pump station for sanitary sewer is proposed on the northwest corner of Nussbaum Avenue and Cross Street. Sanitary sewer mains are proposed throughout the development to convey sanitary sewerage to the pump station. The plans indicate a proposed force main extending southwest of Cross Street.

Under the Township's 2017 Master Plan which requires developers of certain areas in town to pay a Transportation Improvement District fee to provide funding for future road improvements in specific areas, including the Cross and Prospect Streets Core, the developers of this application would be required to pay $31,235.05.

Additionally, as Cross Street is an improved County Highway, the developers would be required to widen Cross Street to have a 26 foot wide half pavement width.

Soon there after, on January 5, 2021, Mr. Mendlowitz presented plans plans to the Township Planning Board to develop an additional portion of the previously designated Educational Campus with 40 duplex units.

This application is further in the woods, and, as shown in the maps below, is only accessible once the roads of the first development are constructed.

The roads of this second development would also be paved with 32 foot wide cartways, which will be dedicated to Lakewood Township as public roads, with curb and sidewalk (along the new lots with road frontages only), landscaping, and street lighting.

After learning at the hearing on the first development that the Board wants to see provisions for playgrounds, Mr. Mendlowitz wisely preempted by providing an 80’ X 100’ rectangular lot for an open space recreation park with playground equipment.

Sanitary sewer and potable water systems are proposed throughout the streets to be improved and must be extended offsite to connect with existing systems.

Both of these applications were presented to the Ocean County Planning Board on January 19, 2022.

The County granted initial approval to both developments with numerous contingencies, including a major condition that the applicant submit a copy of the CAFRA permit or a Jurisdictional Determination letter from the NJDEP.

The basis for this condition is that DEP rules for the CAFRA-zone in Lakewood require a CAFRA application in "a development... that would result, either 

solely or in conjunction with a previous development, in a residential development having 75 or more dwelling units". In this case, although each development on its own would have less than 75 units, because the two developments together would have more than 75 units, the County ruled that it required a CAFRA permit.

CAFRA permits are costly and take multiple years, so by the County determining that these developments require a CAFRA permit, and withholding advancing County approval until a CAFRA permit is submitted, the County placed a major stumbling block in the way of this development turning to fruition.

The County also required numerous revisions to the engineering design plans including certain easements and dedications, to provide school bus turning templates for each entering and exiting movement, to provide additional sight distance, to design the proposed intersections to accommodate right and left turns to and from Cross Street, to relocate the existing utility poles, including those at both ends of the project, to be located further back to accommodate the future widening of Cross Street (beyond the existing right of way line at 33' from centerline), as well as to provide a drainage design and pay an off-tract drainage improvement fee and an off-tract traffic improvement fee in an amount to be determined by the Ocean County Engineer.

However, on June 27th, Glenn Lines of NewLines Engineering submitted a letter to the County asserting that the 40 unit development is, on its own, below the CAFRA threshold, and he asked the County to retract their requirement that the applicant submit a CAFRA permit.

On August 3rd, the Ocean County Planning Board reviewed this request and approved it. They also noted that the Ocean County Engineer had determined that the off-tract drainage improvement fee was $6,000 and the off-tract traffic improvement fee was $62,000.

After this big win, on October 20th, Mr. Lines submitted an additional letter to the County asserting that the 60 unit development is, on its own, is also below the CAFRA threshold, and he asked the County to retract their requirement that the applicant submit a CAFRA permit.

At their recent meeting on November 2nd, the Ocean County Planning Board reviewed this request and approved it as well.

This leeway, which appears to be quite questionable, will pave the way for these 101 homes to be built much sooner than previously anticipated.

Additionally, the granting of this leeway may also open the door to the developer of the adjoining property to play the same games with the county.

On March 6, 2018 developers, under the applicant name Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah, filed an application for an Educational Campus adjacent to the existing Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah location on Massachusetts Avenue. The application proposed a campus with a 3-story yeshiva building, 38 dormitory rooms, 6 townhomes and a 4-story Multi-Family building with 264 apartments.

At the time that this application was initially presented to the Board, the Board tabled it, arguing that the Educational Campus ordinance required the campus to be owned and developed by a school which is accredited to give a Master's Degree, which Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah is not.

The application was finally brought back to the Board on March 3, 2020. At that point, the developer asserted that a more intense reading of the Ordinance shows that "the land and all structures including dwelling units shall be owned and developed" by an eligible school, however, this does not preclude Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah from presenting an application to the Planning Board because, they can later apply to the state to be approved to grant Graduate Degrees.

Just before the Board voted on the matter, Attorney Adam Pfeffer told the Board that they really don't have any plans to build the Educational Campus, rather, they just need the Board to vote that their Educational Campus application is "a complete application" so they could be eligible under the July 2018 Ordinance to re-submit for duplexes.

Despite Board Attorney John Jackson's advice that they do have latitude to deny to hear the application, and despite hearing directly from Mr. Pfeffer that if they vote that this a "complete application" they will soon see an application for a bunch of duplexes, the members of the Planning Board voted, 4-3, to consider this a "complete application".

True to his word, Mr. Pfeffer was soon back with an application for duplexes.

On July 6, 2021, Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah presented plans for 72 duplex units and a shul. The Board required certain modifications to the plan to provide for internally connected roads and pedestrian sidewalks throughout the entire development.

As can be seen in the map shown below, Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah's roads would meet up with phase II of Moishie Mendlowitz's roads.

These 72 duplex units are not the extent of this project as there still remains space for an additional application of homes.

Up until now, Yeshiva Chemdas Hatorah's project was stalled as it was assumed that County officials will require them to obtain a CAFRA permit and they were contemplating how best to proceed, however, now that the County Planning Board has granted leeway to their neighbors, they may be able to learn the ropes from him, and get their developments moving ahead as well.

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