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Last week, mere days after the Lakewood Planning Board voted to recommend permitting banquet halls as an accessory use in schools in non-residential zones only, the Board tabled an application presented by Nachlas Bais Yaakov that sought to build a school with a banquet hall in a residential zone.

According to their legal notice mailed to the neighboring property owners, their application seeks "preliminary and final site plan approval to construct a school with a gymnasium and associated parking lot" at 253 Newport Avenue.

No mention is made of any banquet hall.

A review of their Site Plan and building architectural plans reveals that the actual plan is to construct a three-story elementary school building with a basement, a one-story high school building, and an additional 6,000 sq feet gymnasium building.

The plans also depict a banquet hall complete with a separate entrance, lobby, coatroom, separate restrooms in the elementary school, and a truck delivery area.

The proposed parking lot contains 179 off-street parking spaces.

The application seeks several variances, including for Front Yard Setback of 30 feet where 70 feet is required, and from providing only a 3 foot buffer where 20 feet is required to a residential use.

The site is in the R-40 residential zoning district.

As the news was first broken here on FAA News, the Lakewood Township Committee has introduced an Ordinance to permit banquet halls as an accessory use in all zoning districts where schools are permitted. However, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Planning Board just last week voted to endorse this proposed ordinance, however, but with the recommendation that banquet halls not be permitted in schools in residential zones.

As Newport Avenue is in the R-40 residential zoning district, the Planning Board's recommendation last week was to not permit banquet halls as an accessory use in schools on that block.

Additionally, the Board was once assured by Abe Aurbach of Regency Developments that before the next school gets approved on this block, there would be an additional access way to get to Newport Avenue. The Board now needed to address that assurance.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in March, the Board approved a large child care center just across the road at 220 Newport Avenue.

The application, which was represented by Attorney Miriam Weinstein, was contentious with numerous neighbors presenting pedestrian, traffic safety and congestion concerns, especially as many parents would be driving down the narrow road for pick-up and drop-offs.

The application originally showed plans for an oversized "unfinished basement". Some neighbors retained Brick Attorney Joseph Michelini of the O’Malley, Surman & Michelini firm to represent them in opposing the application, especially due to concerns that there would be a banquet hall in the basement. Mr. Michelini successfully negotiated an agreement that there will not be a rentable banquet hall in the basement.

Board Member Moshe Raitsik echoed many of the same traffic flow concerns expressed by the neighbors. In response, Builder Abe Aurbach of Regency Development told the Board that "while this is out of our hands" there were "3 more schools coming to 'this area' and we are actively pursuing 'several ways' to get an additional entranceway to Newport Avenue."

At the conclusion of the hearing, Board Chairman Moshe Neiman assured the neighbors that although the Board was going to approve this child care center, "when the next school coming to this block wants to get approved, I'm not saying it will get approved, we may say that we need to first wait until the road has an additional entranceway".

Chairman Neiman also noted that schools will "work harder" to get an additional entranceway to Newport Avenue, saying "the message will get out there - because Mr. Aurbach is here now - that if you want to build a school here, let's work on opening Newport Avenue out to Jackson Township or Franklin Blvd."

Despite all of these "assurances", as previously reported here on FAA News, when Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey subsequently presented their Site Plan application, the Board asked about the additional road. Attorney Adam Pfeffer responded simply "I was not the attorney on that other application. The only other access would be from Jackson and that township would never agree. Plus, this school is a permitted use."

Indeed, the child care center was represented by Attorney Miriam Weinstein, not Adam Pfeffer. However, the "assurance" was presented by Developer Abe Aurbach of Regency Development, and he should be held accountable for his words.

Nachlas Bais Yaakov is also represented by Mr. Pfeffer, as well as by Engineer Brian Flannery.

Mr. Pfeffer and Mr. Flannery represented to the Board that the developer of Nachlas Bais Yaakov are now working in collaboration with Township officials to get the rest of the neighboring property owners to chip in for the utilities and road improvements, and to somehow pave a secondary access to Newport Avenue, which will benefit all of the neighboring property owners.

They therefore presented an exhibit that depicted a 4-stage phasing plan to enable the school to "get started" while not completing their full build out until a secondary access road is worked out.

This phasing plan was not submitted to the Board Engineer, nor was it made available to the public prior to the meeting.

Mr. Ed Liston, Esq. appeared on behalf of some neighbors who are opposed to the school due to increased school bus traffic. He represented that his client accepts that schools are important in our community, however at the same time, schools need to be constructed in a way that doesn't "destroy neighborhoods".

He noted that due to a medical issue, his client was unable to come that night and he requested to carry the application until a further night.

Mr. Matthew Fiorovanti, Esq. also appeared on behalf of some neighbors who are opposed to the school. He acceded that schools are an inherently beneficial use and a permitted use under Lakewood's Master Plan, however, "you can accomplish this goal also by building a smaller school".

Mr. Fiorovanti noted that the major buffer variance as well as the lack of landscaping made this application simply "too much, too soon", and despite that the school can provide testimony on the "benefits" of their application, the Board also needs to weigh the "detriments" as, under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, the benefits need to substantially outweigh any detriments.

Mr. Fiorovanti further noted that the proposed on-site school bus loading zone can fit only 10 buses and their 1,500 student count will require 30 buses - this will require numerous buses to line Newport Avenue which is an extremely narrow dead-end road.

Mr. Fiorovanti urged the Board not to grant the requested Final Site Plan approval before the Board Engineer and the public get a fair chance to review the plans for a secondary road as well as the proposed phasing plan which was just dropped on the Board minutes prior.

Mr. Rennert stated that he wanted to hear more about the phasing plan before approving the application. He also stated "significant concerns" with the Major Front Yard Setback variances, adding "maybe this isn’t the right property for their needs".

Board Chairman Moshe Neiman echoed his words, saying "we should stick with the required setbacks so when the next school comes in they don't continue to push the requirements."

Mr. Neiman added that, due to the residential neighborhood, the banquet hall can not be part of the current application, and at the very most they can return and present their plans for the banquet hall only after the main portion of the school is built and we see what the impact of that is.

The applicant agreed to table the application until February 7th so they could see how they could revise the application to address the neighbors'concerns. Prior to returning they will also make their proposed phasing plan to the Board Engineer and the neighbors.

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