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The Lakewood Township Zoning Board last night tabled Appeal #4260 Chestnut Equity, LLC, for a new 28-unit duplex development (plus basement apartments) off Route 70, for lack of a shul and playground, and due to concerns that there were provisions for more than one basement apartment in each unit.

The 4.62 acre site which is currently wooded, is located - as shown in the map below - on the north side of Route 70 between New Hampshire Avenue and Vermont Avenue. The application seeks to construct driveways off Route 70 via the currently unimproved Brotman Avenue and Evergreen Blvd rights-of-way. The application would also pave Stradford Street. For simplicity, if approved by the Board, these 3 roadways would all be renamed into one single roadway.

According to the traffic study conducted in September by Traffic Experts McDonough & Rea Associates Inc. (which is the firm which conducts traffic studies for nearly all land use board applications in Lakewood), this section of Route 70 westbound carries 1,065 vehicles during the 8-9am morning peak hour, and 1,465 vehicles during the 5-6pm afternoon peak hour. An approval of this Use Variance application could add an additional 100 cars to this corridor.

The tract is located in the Township's B-5 zoning district which is a Highway Development Zone and does not permit duplexes.

The  Township's 2017 Master Plan recommends that once all major roadways in Lakewood are sufficiently widened to provide for better traffic flow, this tract be changed into the B-5A zone which permits duplexes on 8,500 sq feet lots, provided that ingress and egress to new multi-family dwelling units be only to and from Route 70 and not permitted from Chestnut Street.

The developers of the application are seeking a Use Variance, a Density Variance, and Bulk Variance relief to construct these 28 duplexes plus basement apartment in accordance with the B-5A zoning district - already now before the collector roadways are widened.

The application is also seeking a design waiver from providing the 5% open space (i.e. playground and shul) that the Township requires for developments over 25 residential dwellings.

Attorney Miriam Weinstein and Engineer Brian Flannery represented the application.

Mr. Flannery represented that this application would have access only to and from Route 70. Despite the paving of this section of Stradford Street, there is no chance that this will connect to the nearby Stradford Street which becomes Colonial Drive (off Chestnut Street) as there are wetlands in between here and there.

Under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55D-70 MLUL) the Board can grant Bulk Variance relief as long as the applicant can testify that "the purposes of the MLUL would be advanced by the granting of the requested variances" and that "the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh any detriment". However, the MLUL also specifies that a Zoning Board may only grant a Use Variance "in particular cases for special reasons", and that 5 affirmative votes are required for approval of a Use Variance.

Mr. Flannery testified that the Township's 2017 Master Plan states that we have an insatiable need for more housing, and that the MLUL, in the "Purpose of the act" states: a) To encourage municipal action to guide the appropriate use or development of all lands in this State, in a manner which will promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare; e) To promote the establishment of appropriate population densities and concentrations that will contribute to the well-being of persons, neighborhoods, communities and regions and preservation of the environment; and that by granting the requested variances which will permit these houses to get built, the Board will "advance the purpose of the MLUL" and that "the benefit of the deviation substantially outweighs any detriment of increased traffic congestion."

Surprisingly, the Board members were not entirely impressed by this fantastic Planning testimony and they charged on with some questions.

Board Attorney Jerry Dasti noted that the Site Plans indicate three separate footprints and configurations for the duplex units, however, only one floor design has been submitted. Additionally, this single floor design only matches the depicted building footprint in width, but not in the building depth and the offset between the halves.

At this point, Board Member Judah Ribiat noted that the basement floor plans - as shown below - appears to include 2 separate apartments (while the Township ordinance only permits one separate apartment) as there is one exterior door leading to a "guest room" and "kitchenette" on one side of the basement and a second exterior door on the other side of the basement leading to an additional kitchen, dining room and 3 bedrooms.

Mr. Flannery attempted to respond that "there will be only one separate apartment in the basement. The guest room and kitchenette area of the basement will be retained for use by the upstairs family".

Board Member Moish Ingber retorted that "there are no interior stairs directly from the main unit to this 'retained for the upstairs family' space so it looks like it will indeed be 2 separate apartments".

Mrs. Weinstein agreed to revise the plans to show that there will be only one exterior entrance to permit only one apartment in the basement.

Mr. Dasti noted that their architectural plans are anyways insufficient as noted above, and that they should need to return with appropriate architectural plans prior to receiving any Board approval.

Board Member Meir Gelley asked for a shul. Board Member Avraham Naftali asked for a playground.

Board members discussed the Township's Open Space ordinance (18-808) which states:

"Not less than 5% of land area of every residential major subdivision or residential site plan consisting of 25 or more units shall be preserved as common open space or shall be dedicated to active recreational or community facilities....

"For any project consisting of less than... 30 dwelling units, it is recognized as impractical that recreational facilities be constructed and the payment in-lieu-of-construction is encouraged....

"The amount of the contribution required pursuant hereto shall... not be more than $500... per dwelling unit...

"The cash bequest shall be... placed in the current budget line item designated "parks and playgrounds, other expenses." Lakewood Township reserves the right to use said funds for the above referenced purposes anywhere within the Township..."

Mr. Flannery responded that the developers will comply with the section of the ordinance that permits a $500 payment in-lieu-of-construction of a playground.

Board Member Moish Ingber pressed on that despite this cash payment provision in the ordinance, we should still get a real shul and playground here, noting that the closest shul would require walking across Route 70 and that should be discouraged at all costs

Mr. Dasti noted that "this is a closed development, it should have its own shul".

Mrs. Weinstein offered to dedicate a basement for a shul.

Board members said that a basement shul isn't sufficient for this amount of families and that they can't approve an application of this scope without a proper shul.

Mr. Flannery and Mrs. Weinstein agreed to carry the application with no set date yet to return, as they will take the Board's concerns into consideration, and revise the plans accordingly. They will only return to the Board if and when they can present a more palpable application. They will provide a new legal notice to the nearby property owners if and when they want to return.

Before we end, it's appropriate to clear the air on an important issue:

The Board Engineer always provides Board members and the public with a review letter detailing what the application is providing and what variances and waivers they are seeking.

The Site Plan provides 4 off-street parking spaces, which is the standard provision for all new homes in Lakewood. However, the architectural plans depicts a total of 10 bedrooms in each unit, 6 upstairs and 4 in the basement; and the Township ordinance (18-807) requires 5 off-street parking spaces for homes with more than 8 bedrooms. If and when this application returns to the Board, they should need to either provide additional parking or eliminate some bedrooms. The Engineering review letter did not address this fault.

The original FAA News report on this application noted that they were not providing the required Open Space. Luckily, Board members brought up this issue as well, and even tabled the application because of it. Unfortunately, the Engineering review letter did not address this fault either.

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Chestnut'er said...

I'm grateful that the Zoning Board tabled this application. We don't need additional houses in the area and that is actually a great location for a commercial building or office building. I'm grateful that at the very least, the Board tabled this proposal for lack of a shul and playground. Where does the developer think the kids will stretch their legs? On Route 70?? There is absolutely no place to go here.

Malky Weissman said...

Thank you Zoning Board! Please continue to fight for more shuls and playgrounds!