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Yeshiva Birchas Chaim, located at 1111 Vine Avenue, received Site Approval this week from Lakewood Township's Planning Board to expand their current Mesivta campus with a Beis Medrash and dormitory building for approximately 85 bochurim.

This new building expansion application is in addition to the yeshiva's small expansion of their Beis Medrash which was previously approved and is currently under construction.

At 2 hearings which were held on October 25 and November 15, the Board focused heavily on the adjoining rights-of-way of Surf Avenue and Mermaid Avenue, which are shown in the map below, lined in red. When the original Yeshiva building was built, they received a road waiver from the Planning Board so they were excused from paving Surf and Mermaid Avenue's past their driveway entrances which is approximately 100 feet away from their intersections with Vine Avenue. They now brought in their "relief pitchers" to put up a big fight to enable them to retain this waiver, despite basically doubling their student count.

The entire lot contains 80,000 sq feet, or 1.837 acres and contains a 2 story Mesivta building. The proposal is to construct a 7,000 sq feet two-story building addition with a basement. The first floor and basement will contain a total of 19 dormitory rooms, and a rabbi’s apartment with a dining room, kitchen, and bedroom. The second floor will contain 2 classrooms, 2 offices, a library, and a Beis Medrash.

No changes are proposed to the existing parking area which consists of 18 off-street spaces, including 2 ADA spots and a bus loading/unloading lane with space for 3 buses. (Even with the expansion, their current 18 parking spaces exceed the Township's requirements for parking which only count the classrooms, library, and offices which total 13).

Some additional landscaping as well as alterations to the stormwater management facilities are proposed. It appears that no changes to the site lighting are proposed.

The Yeshiva building is located on the east side of Vine Avenue between the right of ways of Surf and Mermaid Avenues. Vine Avenue is paved and has curb and sidewalk. When the yeshiva building was originally approved, they received a road waiver from the Planning Board so they were excused from paving Surf and Mermaid Avenue's past their driveway entrances which is approximately 100 feet away from their intersections with Vine Avenue.

The Yeshiva now sought to retain this road waiver along with their building expansion.

They also sought a variance of building coverage for 23% where the maximum is 20%; a Front Yard Setback Variance towards Mermaid Avenue of 47.73 feet where 70 feet is required and a Front Yard Setback towards Surf Avenue of 5.61 feet where 70 feet is required. 

The variance towards Mermaid Avenue came about because when the original building was constructed, the Ordinance required a 45 foot setback, however, since then the Ordinance was amended to require a more stringent 70 foot setback.

When the original building was constructed, they also complied with the then-required 45 foot setback to Surf Avenue. At this point the Ordinance requires a 70 foot setback. 

Additionally, the application sought a design waiver from providing street trees along Surf Avenue as the building's location would be too close to the right-of-way to permit street trees within the shade tree and utility easement along the entire Surf Avenue frontage.

Finally, the application sought a variance to permit the building to be 38.5 feet high where the Maximum Building Height is 35 feet.

The Yeshiva was represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer, Glenn Lines, professional engineer and professional planner, and Abe Aurbach of Regency Development.

At the initial hearing on October 25th, board members weighed in on the Surf Avenue setback and opined that 5 feet away from the road is just way too close, especially as the area in back of the school could be developed by their property owners and then this school building will be extremely close to their road.

Mr. Lines responded that likely no neighboring property owners would pave Surf Avenue due to the detention basin on the other side. 

Board members said they still wanted to see the plans revised. They questioned relocating the dor or changing its configuration, possibly by bringing the dormitory addition closer to the existing school building. 

Mr. Pfeffer asked "how far off Surf would you like to see it?"

Mr. Meyer responded "at least 20 feet away".

Mr. Pfeffer agreed to return with revised plans with a minimum of a 20 foot setback from Surf Avenue, adding "I’m not sure of how,  but we have a few options and it will be at least 20 feet from the property line."

At this week's hearing, the Yeshiva returned with a revised plan that provided a 15 foot setback from Surf Avenue. Better than their previous 5, but not as much as the 20 they promised.

Board members discussed the recreational area and the off-street parking. When the original building was constructed, they built a parking lot in front and a basketball court in the rear. They paved the public rights of way of Surf and Mermaid Avenue's only to provide access to their driveway. However, Board Member Yair Stern pointed out that they have since then eliminated the rear yard basketball ball court to make way for their other building expansion which is currently underway and now, the bochurim use the parking lot for their recreational use, and they have repurposed the public rights of way of Surf and Mermaid Avenue's for all their parking. If these roads ever do get developed by the neighboring property owners, what will the Yeshiva do for parking?, He asked. The developers of the Yeshiva did not provide any answers.

Board members then discussed the yeshiva's request to reaffirm their road waiver so they do not need to pave Surf and Mermaid Avenue's along their entire frontages.

Board Member Eli Rennert who was Acting Chairman as Mr. Neiman was absent from the meeting, emphasized that the Township's ordinances require property owners to pave all frontages along their property, and this should be required here as there are additional property owners in the rear of this yeshiva building and if the Yeshiva doesn't pave these roads and the neighbors later want to improve their properties, they will be forced to pave the roads along the yeshiva's frontages which is legally the yeshiva's responsibility to do now.

Mr. Aurbach gave major pushback, arguing "Lakewood doesn't need more roads. Why are you asking a school to build a street that goes no where?"

Mr. Lines added, "if we pave these roads now and a neighbor wants to improve their property in the future, they will actually need to spend more money ripping up our pavement in order to install utilities and drainage".

Board Member Yair Stern shot back, "now you’re adding a dormitory, and we’re saying we’d like sidewalk and street. Balance off the positives and negatives. I think it would be appropriate to improve the street to the end of your building."

Board Member Bruce Stern suggested that they compromise by conditioning their approval that if the neighbors ever do improve their properties then this yeshiva will need to pave the roads at that time.

Board Secretary Ally Morris explained that that's not possible for the Township to monitor as once they obtain their building permit and Certificate of Occupancy, the Township has no more holding over them and no way to require anything.

Ms. Morris suggested that the Board not grant the road waiver now, and condition the approval on the Yeshiva getting a road vacation from the Township Committee so the rights of way will be extinguished.

Mr. Aurbach offered to compromise by paving an additional 45 feet past where their pavement currently ends.

Mr. Yair Stern made a motion to approve, with the condition that they improve 100 feet of Surf Avenue. Mr. Rennert seconded the motion.

This motion failed as only Mr. Rennert and Mr. Yair Stern voted for it. Mr. Meyer and Mr. Bruce Stern voted against it. Mr. Pichey abstained from voting.

At that point, Mr. Meyer made a new motion to approve, the application with no requirements to pave either road, but with a requirement to install a sidewalk along their frontage of Surf Avenue and to connect it to their existing sidewalk. Mr. Bruce Stern seconded the motion.

Mr. Meyer, Mr. Bruce Stern, and Mr. Pichey voted for the motion. Mr. Rennert and Mr. Yair Stern voted against the motion (as they wanted the Yeshiva to pave the roads).

The motion passed.

Curiously, the applicant's professionals did not place on the record the basis for their requesting the variances. 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". No body seemed concerned about their lack of required testimony.

The yeshiva's application will not require Ocean County Planning Board approval since less than an acre of impervious area would be added, the site is on Township rights-of-ways, and County facilities would unlikely be impacted.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This truly is a "living in Lakewood" issue.

While I agree that currently these roads lead to no where, the fact of the matter is that several schools such as Rabbi Strickman's yeshiva on Newport Avenue and Cheder Bnei Torah behind Oak Street are being forced to pave 2 blocks in order to get to their new schools because the first schools got waivers from paving their sections of the roads.

This is not fair. Everyone should need to do their part.