Despite the fact that the Lakewood Planning Board is still in court over the legality of them approving dormitories as a permitted use, there are currently 2 yeshiva dormitory applications listed on tonight's Board meeting agenda.

Lakewood Township's zoning ordinances expressly permit dormitories only in Planned Educational Campuses which are available for "not for profit institutions of higher education... [which are] fully accredited and licensed by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education of the State of New Jersey and... offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees". Such campuses are permitted only in certain zones, and on a minimum gross acreage of three acres.

Essentially, Lakewood Township's zoning ordinances prohibit the vast majority of yeshivos from operating dormitories and therefore, an application for a dormitory would require a Use Variance from the Zoning Board. Unlike the Planning Board, the Zoning Board not only may deny such an application, but legally must deny an application unless the applicant can testify why his use variance application is a "particular case for special reasons".

In the past, the Planning Board has - at the urging of school developers - "worked around this issue" by considering dormitories to be an "accessory use" to a school, thus eliminating the need for a Use Variance from the Zoning Board.

Lakewood Township's zoning ordinances for schools do not expressly list any specifically permitted uses as accessory to a school, however, the general "Definition of Terms" defines "accessory use" as "a use, structure or building that is customarily incidental and subordinate to that of the principal and on the same lot", and this is the "work around" that the Planning Board has used in the past.

However, the Planning Board is now deeply involved in a lawsuit over such a "work around" approval.

Ridge Avenue neighbors, represented by Attorney Jan Meyer are suing in Court seeking to overturn the Planning Board's approval of a dormitory for Yeshiva Toras Chaim as an “accessory use” to the school building which is a permitted use (but which has already been constructed), charging that, "dormitories are not a permitted use in the Township's R-15 zone and therefore, construction of a standalone dormitory would require a use variance, which must be sought before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, not the Planning Board."

As previously reported here on FAA News, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Marlene Ford has called on the Yeshiva's administration to settle this lawsuit with their neighbors. Already during the Board's public hearing, the neighbors attempted to suggest an alternative planning proposal for the dormitory, to no avail. Mr. Meyer is expected to soon file a Motion for Summary Judgement on this case.

In the meantime, despite that this case - which brings to the forefront the legality of dormitories as a permitted use - remains pending deep in Court, there are 2 dormitory applications on today's Planning Board meeting agenda.

Birchas Chaim which already has an existing Yeshiva building located at 1111 Vine Street has submitted a Site Plan application to the Planning Board to expand their building to build a dormitory. The expansion would be on the same lot as their existing building.

Additionally, Congregation Yeshiva Gedola has submitted Application SP 2486 for a Site Plan at 261 Joe Parker Road. This appears to be for Yeshiva Mishkan Hatalmud (Rav Ehrlich's yeshiva), which is owned by Eli Schwab.

The legal notice states that the application seeks "approval for the construction of a new two-story school building with a partial basement and a faculty housing building" - with no mention of a proposed dormitory, however, the architectural plans submitted for depict dormitory rooms.

The architectural plans were revised in August and that updated version of the plans were submitted to the Board Engineer. However, the revised plans were not provided yet to the Board secretary and therefore they were not available for public inspection 10 days prior to the meeting and therefore, legally the Board lacks jurisdiction to hear the application today.

When the Board postpones the hearing due to this insufficiency, perhaps they should also address the notice insufficiency which fails to mention the dormitory.

The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (40:55D-11) requires legal notices to state "the nature of the matters to be considered". 

The New Jersey Appellate Division, under Perlmart vs. Lacey Twp. Planning Board, has clarified that "the purpose for notifying the public of the nature of the matters to be considered is to ensure that members of the general public... are properly apprised ... so they may make an informed determination as to whether they should participate in the hearing or at least look more closely at the plans on file", and that "proper notice is a jurisdictional prerequisite, and a failure to so provide is fatal to the Board's approval", and the Appellate Division tossed out the Board approval, saying that because the notice did not reasonably provide neighbors and the public an accurate description of what the property will be used for, and as such, the board lacked jurisdiction to even consider the application.

More recently, in the 2019 case known as Lakewood Realty Associates vs. Lakewood Township Planning Board & RD Lakewood LLC, the Appellate Division found that by failing to mention a banquet hall in a notice for a hotel, the public notice did not adequately describe "the nature of the matters to be considered". The court was not persuaded by the applicant’s argument that the notice adequately described the proposed use because it listed a hotel, and "hotels often include bars, restaurants, and banquet facilities."

The lack of mention of the dormitory in their legal notice may very well be an insufficiency and violation of this Statue and Case Law, - remember, in applying the Lakewood hotel case, the Court was not persuaded that "schools often include dormitories", they still need to provide proper notice to neighbors.

As previously reported here on FAA News, citing the Toras Chaim litigation they are fighting, Planning Board members recently pushed back on hearing two dormitory applications, including Birchas Chaim's application.

Time will tell if the Board will hold their position tonight.

The meeting will take place at Town Hall beginning at 6:00pm.

Suggested Further Reading:



LAKEWOOD COMMITTEE COULD ALLOW RESIDENTS OPPORTUNITY TO APPEAL BOARD APPROVALS (includes a primer introduction to Lakewood Township's land use boards)

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Raintree neighbor said...

Thanks FAA for letting me know about this serious problem. I live in the general area of this schwab application and I don't like when the applicant "forgets" to share the whole truth in his Notice. I'll make sure to report back to my neighbors about the latest with this problem application. I want attorney Jan Meyer's contact, as we may very well hire him, and this deficiency definitely makes our case much stronger.

Keep up the great work on behalf of the residents. We all appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Jan Meyer's phone number is 201-862-9600

Anonymous said...

Do we really want dormitories on every block in town?

Some of these current school dormitories have boys partying and waking the neighbors till 2 and 3 in the morning with no dorm counselor to bring things under control. I'm not even discussing the cigarette butts and other garbage they leave all over the neighborhood. If you want it, then stick it next to your house - not mine!

Besides, the yeshiva currently in litigation has some real chutzpah to stuff another 300+ boys in an area too small for them while barely allowing the neighbors to keep their quiet and privacy. If the hanhala wants to double the size of their student body, they can always sell their current lot to a smaller school and buy themselves a much bigger piece of land somewhere else to build on. The rosh yeshiva can also buy a few houses on his block and put up a big building together with a gigantic multi-story dorm right next to his neighbors. I'm sure they'll be very happy.

What the hanhala has been trying to force upon the neighbors shows a big lack of simple mentschlichkeit.