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Out of concerns of insufficient parking, - which was brought to their attention by neighbors of the area - Ocean County officials have put the brakes on plans for a major shul expansion in Lakewood - before the Lakewood Planning Board could even get a chance to grant their stamp of approval, FAA News has learned.

As first reported here on FAA News, the Sunset Road Sefardic Congregation, located at 220 Sunset Road near Liberty Drive, has submitted application SP 2487 to Lakewood Township's Planning Board 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, shows only 9 off-street parking spaces.

Curiously, the application as submitted erroneously indicated that they only require 18 parking spaces.

The application is being represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer.

There is no Use Variance required as shuls are a permitted use in this zone. The application also meets the Minimum Lot Area requirement of 12,000 sq feet, as well as the Minimum Lot Width requirement of 100 feet.

The application, however, does seek 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.

In addition to the major parking variances, 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 application was originally scheduled to be heard on Tuesday October 25th. However, the neighbors have retained Toms River Attorney Ed Liston to represent their opposition to all of the requested variances, and at his request that the application be carried so he could have an opportunity to review the entire application, the Board has agreed to postpone the hearing until November 29th.

This application, as well as all Site Plan applications in Lakewood, also requires approval from the Ocean County Planning Board. However, county officials have typically "tried to stay away from trouble" by telling residents that their "review is limited to the Site Plan's affect on County roads and drainage facilities" and that they should voice their opposition mainly at the Township boards. Additionally, while the County does publish an agenda of the applications which they will review at their upcoming meeting, there is no legal notice required to be sent to the adjoining property owners, so most often the neighbors don't even know when the County review meeting will take place.

However, FAA News has learned that in this case, 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 opposed the lot size, saying that it is simply not adequate to contain a large shul building, however, the County does not have jurisdiction over this matter as that is ordained by the Lakewood Township Committee.

However, the County did hear the concerns over the inadequate parking.

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 was drafted on behalf of the shul by McDonough and Rea Associates. It 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 officials 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."

This is a major boost for the neighbors because typically, at Township Planning Board meetings, the developers and their professionals tell the Board "we anyways need County approval, so even by you stamping your approval, we can't build anything unless the County is also ok with our plan", and then they show that stamp of approval to the County (which anyway has limited jurisdiction as explained above) and they quietly obtain County approval as well.

As previously reported here on FAA News, after Ridge Avenue residents filed a Fraud Claims lawsuit against the Lakewood Planning Board's approval of Beis Reuven Kaminetz's application for a 15-unit housing Subdivision, school and Simcha Hall in the basement, arguing that the number of proposed students was misrepresented and that the yeshiva did not advertise in their legal notice to the neighbors that they were planning to include a banquet hall in their building, Ocean County officials have learned of the issues caused by the Lakewood Planning Board turning a blind eye to major parking variances and Simcha halls in general, and they have upped their own game in keeping a more watchful eye on Lakewood school applications.

Thanks to this Sunset Road shul application with its major parking variance, it seems that County officials will start to keep a more watchful eye as well on shul applications in general, and major parking variances specifically.

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