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Lakewood Township's Planning Board and it's administrative and professional team has quite some explaining to do!

The Planning Board this week quickly and quietly approved Application SP 2486 for a Site Plan, including a dormitory, for Congregation Yeshiva Gedola, which is Yeshiva Mishkan Hatalmud (Rav Ehrlich's yeshiva), which is owned by Eli Schwab, at 261 Joe Parker Road.

The legal notice provided to the neighbors simply states that the application seeks "approval for the construction of a new two-story school building with a partial basement and a faculty housing building" - with no mention of any proposed dormitory.

The legal notice was sent out at the end of October and notified neighbors that the application was scheduled for the November 15 public hearing.

The notice directed neighbors that they could review the application plans online by visiting and clicking the link for "Planning Board Applications and Plans."

According to numerous emails obtained by FAA News, in the afternoon of the day of the meeting, a member of the public notified Board Secretary Ally Morris that while the Board Engineer's review letter indicates that they reviewed separate architectural plans for the Yeshiva building as well as for the faculty apartments, these building architectural plans were not posted in the Planning Board online folder.

Ms. Morris responded that she has the architectural plans and will post them immediately.

The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55d-10(b), - and as codified by Lakewood Township's ordinances (18-305D(2) - provides that "any maps and documents for which approval is sought at a hearing shall be on file and available for public inspection at least 10 days before the date of the hearing, during normal business hours in the office of the administrative officer."

Accordingly, the member of the public responded that the Board does not have jurisdiction to hear the application that night because the applicant's notice directed interested members of the public to view their application documents online, and because their architectural plans were not posted online 10 days prior to the hearing, they failed their notice requirement and the Board lacked jurisdiction to hear the application until the applicant submitted architectural plans and they were posted online.

At that point, Ms. Morris responded that she doesn't even have the most revised architectural plans as her plans are dated 5/03 and the Board Engineer's review letter indicates that they reviewed revised plans dated 8/29.

Board Engineer Dave Magnos then chimed in, confirming that they reviewed revised plans dated 8/29.

At that point, the application hearing was appropriately carried until the correct architectural plans were received and posted online in accordance with the application notice.

The application was then placed on the Board's public hearing agenda for this past Tuesday November 29th.

On Thursday, November 24th, - less than 10 days prior to the new meeting day - a member of the public informed Ms. Morris that there were architectural plans posted online, however those plans were the outdated 5/03 plans and not the revised 8/29 plans that the Board Engineer indicated he reviewed, and that the Board again needed to carry the application until the correct plans are available online 10 days prior to the meeting, in accordance with the applicant's notice.

Ms. Morris quizzically responded:

"Good morning. I’m forwarding your email to the Board Attorney so they can address this legal matter.

As indicated in previous emails, all available architectural plans are in the online folder."

The Board Attorney did not follow up with any further response on this matter.

On Monday, November 28th the following email was sent to Ms. Morris:

"Following up.

It still appears that only the old architectural plans are online. The revised 8/29 plans which RVE reviewed are not online.

Will this application be carried to a future meeting date?"

Ms. Morris did not respond at all.

Outrageously, at the public hearing on Tuesday night, the Planning Board quickly and quietly approved the Site Plan application!

The Board did not even utter any issue with the legal notice failing to mention the planned dormitory. Nor did the Board propose to carry this application until after the upcoming December 16th Court hearing which will determine if the Board even has legal jurisdiction to approve dormitories. As previously reported here, the Board has recently pushed back on hearing dormitory applications, citing that they are waiting for "clarity" on the legality on the matter, which the upcoming Court hearing will provide.

Instead, this dormitory application received lots of special treatment.

It was represented by Attorney Miriam Weinstein and Engineer Brian Flannery.

They indicated that this is a pre-Eretz Yisroel yeshiva and none of the bochurim have cars and they will all sleep in the on-site dormitory.

They also represented that the Yeshiva currently has 31 students and the new building will have a maximum capacity of 75 students.

Their proposed Site Plan provided 17 parking spaces. Even at the Township's low parking requirements for schools, they required 18 parking spaces.

They indicated that they have a total staff of 5 faculty members who are not all on site at the same time so their parking plan should suffice.

Board Member Yair Stern cross-examined Rabbi Ehrlich who admitted that the Yeshiva currently also has 6 married students who drive. Mr. Stern noted that with a projected total capacity of 75 students, their total number of married students with cars will likely expand as well and they therefore needed to figure out how to increase some additional parking spaces.

The engineers then proposed that by moving the faculty building southerly, they can move 2 parking spaces and add 6 new parking spaces.

Board Member Justin Flancbaum noted that the Site Plan does not provide any landscaping at all. The applicant agreed to add in arborvitaes for landscaping.

The applicant also agreed to provide a basketball ball court for recreational use and a 6' high white vinyl fencing.

The Board conditioned the approval that the basement will be unfinished for storage only, with no simcha hall at all.

The Board then unanimously approved the application.

After learning of this application approval, despite the Board Engineer previously agreeing that the revised architectural plans were not sufficiently available to the public as Statutorily required prior to the hearing, a member of the public reached out to Board Secretary Ally Morris asking for a plausible explanation.

It took several emails, including with cc'ing the Mayor, Committee, and Manager, and finally Ms. Morris provided the following explanation:

After your initial emailed concerns in early November, I discussed the matter with the office of the Board Engineer (Dave Magno) in person at the meeting on 11/15. He reviewed his file (which he had on-hand for the hearing that evening), and confirmed that the dates of the printed architectural plans in his personal file matched those in the printed Lakewood Planning Board file and posted on the Township website (one set dated 8/29/22, and the other UNDATED but with a print date of 5/3/22). He acknowledged that an error was made in his review letter, wherein the reviewing technician made an oversight and assumed that both architectural plans were dated the same more recent date.

I was prepared to share this information with you at our meeting on the 15th, however no one approached me or Mr. Jackson to discuss the matter, and ultimately the application was announced as carrying to the 11/29/22 public hearing.

In summary, as per my email to you on 11/24, all available architectural plans have been in the online folder since well before the 11/15 and 11/29 meetings for the public’s review.

Hm... Why, when asked for clarification prior to Tuesday's hearing did Ms. Morris did not bother to respond in the affirmative that the application was going to be heard on Tuesday??

Additionally, why would Ms. Morris expect neighbors to show up to the November 15th meeting after Board Engineer Dave Magnos already indicated earlier in the day that the application needed to be carried to a future date??

Seems the public, especially the Raintree neighbors, were unfairly prejudiced.

Members of the public, especially property owners within 200 feet, who feel that the Board's approval was "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable" may contact a land use attorney to file a lawsuit. Time is of the essence as the lawsuit must be filed within 45 days of when the Board memorializes their Resolution of Approval.

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