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Lakewood Township's Planning Board is set tonight to hear application SP 2487 for Sunset Road Sephardic Congregation, which seeks a major parking variance.

As first reported here on FAA News, the Sunset Road Sefardic Congregation, located at 220 Sunset Road near Liberty Drive is seeking to demolish the residential house they currently use "ad hoc" for their Shul and Kollel and replace it with a new 2-story building.

According to the architectural plans submitted to the Board, the first floor will contain a 2,218 sq foot Beis Medrash as well as a 544 sq foot Otzar / Cheder Sheni, and the second floor will contain a 1,273 sq foot Ezras Noshim as well as a 93 sq foot warming kitchen.

The Township's zoning ordinances require 1.25 parking spaces for every 100 sq feet of "main sanctuary space" if such space is more than 2,000 sq feet. The ordinance specifies that "main sanctuary area shall not include secondary sanctuary space, mikvah, hallways, bathrooms, kitchen, and other ancillary and/or support rooms."

As such the Beis Medrash requires 28 off-street parking spaces. The Site Plan which was designed by Engineer Eric Halpert of Haler Consulting of Jackson, provides only 9 off-street parking spaces.

Interestingly, the application as submitted indicated that they only require 18 parking spaces. That however was an incorrect calculation.

The application meets the total lot area requirement of 12,000 sq feet, and the lot width requirement of 100 feet.

The application seeks variances for Front Yard Setback of 25 feet where 30 feet is required, and for Side Yard Setback of 4 feet where 10 feet is required, and for Rear Yard Setback of 4.8 feet where 20 feet is required.

The application also seeks a parking setback variance as all of the parking spaces will go up to the property line, as the proposed buffer will be only 10 inches instead of the required 20 foot.

The shul has provided a traffic study which was performed by McDonough and Rea Associates. It confidently assures the Board that "the parking supply is adequate to support the anticipated demand and use of the shul since the shul is intended to serve congregants within the neighborhood and it is expected that a number of congregants will walk to the shul."

The shul is being represented by Jackson Attorney Adam Pfeffer.

Under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), in order for the Planning Board to grant approval to this application with its variances, the applicant would need to testify that by granting the deviation from the zoning ordinance requirements, the purposes of the MLUL would be advanced, and the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh any detriment and that such relief can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance.

Neighbors have retained Toms River Attorney Ed Liston to represent their opposition to the granting of the requested variances.

This application was originally scheduled to be presented last month. However, Mr. Liston requested that the application be carried until tonight so he could have an opportunity to review the entire application.

The application also requires approval from the Ocean County Planning Board. As previously reported here on FAA News, the application was already presented to the Ocean County Planning Board, and after hearing from neighbors about their grave concerns over the inadequate parking that already exists on the shul's current site, and how the situation will only get exacerbated if the building expansion plan is approved, County officials agreed to halt approval of the expansion plan.

Neighbors told the County, "over the years that the congregation has been here, it has grown, and along with that the amount of foot and vehicle traffic. Cars that are parking for the congregation, park anywhere they can fit with no regard for the busy road. Very often they park on the sidewalk and block access for young school children to gain access to their bus without walking in the very busy street. Many cars even park with their vehicles well over the white line, in the roadway, causing a safety issue for both directions of traffic. Today, before expanding the size and capacity of the building, there are, at times, well over 20 cars parked, sometimes haphazardly along Sunset Road with no regard for safety."

This testimony from the neighbors directly contradicts the Shul's "Traffic Study" which confidently assures that "the parking supply is adequate to support the anticipated demand and use of the shul since the shul is intended to serve congregants within the neighborhood and it is expected that a number of congregants will walk to the shul."

In response, County Engineers asserted that the Shul needs to "justify the lack of proposed on-site parking as it relates to current issues with vehicles parking along the County road". Additionally, the County Planning Board has halted construction until the Shul "clarifies if 9 on-site parking spaces adequately address the parking requirements for the proposed use."

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