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After previously denying two shul applications, Jackson Township's Zoning Board is scheduled to reconsider those applications.

The first application, which is scheduled for a Reconsideration this Wednesday, was submitted by Swanborne LLC and is represented by Attorney John A. Giunco, Esq. of Red Bank-based Giordano Halleran & Ciesla.

The second application, which is scheduled for a Reconsideration at a Special Meeting to be held next Wednesday, January 25th, was submitted by 26 Whitesville Road, LLC and is represented by renowned RLUIPA Attorney Donna Jennings, Esq. of Woodbridge, New Jersey-based Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer.

The Swanborne property is approximately 158.8 acres in area and is located in the Township's Regional Growth 2 Zone ("RG-2 Zone"). It is bounded by East Veterans Highway (Ocean County Route 528) to the north, South Hope Chapel Road (Ocean County Route 547) to the east, and Whitesville Road (Ocean County Route 527) to the south and west.

Back on October 5, 2022, plans were submitted to the Zoning Board for approval for a residential development with 205 single-family detached residential lots, 6 multi-family residential buildings containing a total of 48 affordable residential units, and a 2-story house of worship, as well as recreational areas.

The application sought approval for the Preliminary and Major Subdivision, as well as for the Site Plan for the multi-family residential buildings for the affordable residential units, which required Conditional Use Variance Relief as the Ordinance permits affordable housing units only in attached dwellings with a maximum of 4 dwelling units per building and the application is to construct 8 units per building; and for the Site Plan for the shul which sought variances to permit parking and drive aisles in the front yard setback and buffer area.

At that hearing, the Board voted on and failed to approve by a 4 to 4 vote the preliminary subdivision portion of this Application, resulting in a technical denial of the entire Application.

Subsequently, the developer requested a Reconsideration, contending that "there is clear evidence on the record that the Board was mistaken as to which portion of the application was being voted on." (I.e. They thought they were voting on the shul's Site Plan application when they were actually only voting on the initial Subdivision application). As such, the Applicant sought reconsideration by the Board as a result of this mistake.

As previously reported here on FAA News, on December 7, 2022, the Board agreed to Reconsider their original denial, and they also approved the Subdivision as well as the Site Plan for the affordable residential units.

The Board carried the Site Plan application for the shul to a future hearing "to address some engineering concerns."

The Board is scheduled this Wednesday, to Reconsider the Site Plan application for the proposed shul which has now been reduced in size.

The original application was for construction of a 2-story house of worship with 8,226 sq feet of building area and associated parking areas. The application has been modified which reduced (i) the sanctuary area of the House of Worship to 6,250 sq feet, and (ii) the required amount of parking to 125 spaces, which is provided.

The proposed shul includes a Shabbos mikva and a kiddush room in the basement.

In addition to Preliminary and Final Major Site Plan Approval, the Applicant will also seek such other variances, waivers, permits and/or exceptions, pursuant to the Ordinance, and the MLUL, as the Board and its professional consultants may deem necessary for this Application at the time of the Hearing.

The Zoning Board has also agreed to schedule a Special Meeting next Wednesday, January 25, 2023, for a Reconsideration of the Whitesville Road shul application.

The shul, which is managed by Mordechai Hirsch of 26 Whitesville Road, LLC, first appeared before the Board back in March 2022 with a plan to convert the existing structures on the property - formerly a dog kennel - into a 1,200 sq foot shul, with 12 parking spaces, and to retain the existing single family home on the property to be rented out for a residential use.

Mr. Hirsch represented that the shul would contain up to 35 congregants and he anticipated that there would be fewer than 20 cars parked on the property, and that he would post "no parking" signs along the road if required.

At the time, neighbors and board members pushed back, saying that the parking was "insufficient."

Subsequently, as plans to build a 100-home development across the street were approved by the Township, the developers of the Whitesville Road changed course to more ambitiously plan for a real big shul building that could accommodate expected population in the area for the next ten years.

As such, the original "keep but convert the existing building plans" were upgraded to demolish all structures on the lot, including the former dog kennel and the single family home, and to build a 14,310 sq foot building with a shul and "party room" and warming kitchen in the basement, a separate building for a Shabbos mikva, and a large parking lot with 67 spaces.

The application was presented to the Board in August, represented by Attorney Donna Jennings, Esq. of Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer, Engineer Ian Borden of PDS Engineering, and Traffic Engineer John Rea of McDonough & Rea.

The architectural plans submitted depicted a main sanctuary of 1,922 sq feet as well as an otzar / secondary rooms of 389 sq feet on the first floor, an Ezras Noshim of 1,391 sq feet on the second floor, and a 3,034 sq feet party room and 368 sq feet warming kitchen in the basement.

The Township's Land Use Ordinance requires 1 parking space for each 50 square feet of floor area within the main congregation seating area. The main sanctuary + the Ezras Noshim = 3,313 sq feet. 67 parking spaces are required and 67 off-street parking spaces were proposed.

Houses of Worship are conditionally permitted in the RG2 Zone in which the 2.6-acre, triangular lot is located. Conditional Use Variance relief was necessary as the application did not comply with all standards of the conditional use. These include a 79.6-foot front property line setback where 100 feet is required; a landscaped buffer of only 25 feet around the entire length of side and rear property lines from a residential use or district where 50 feet is required; and for parking within 30-feet of the front property line where a 100 foot setback is required.

At the time the application was bifurcated for Conditional Use Variance relief only, as this would grant the developers of the shul the initial approval before they need to spend thousands of dollars on Site Plans. However, the Board shied away from granting the Use Variance prior to seeing the full Site Plan.

In December 2022, the applicant returned to the Board with a compromise whereas they sought only the bifurcated Conditional Use Variance relief only, as they still did not yet submit a fully engineered Site Plan, however, the Use Variance plan was "upgraded" with many elements typically reserved for a Site Plan.

The architectural plans were additionally revised to depict a slightly smaller main sanctuary of 1,812 sq feet as well as an otzar / secondary rooms of 382 sq feet on the first floor, an Ezras Noshim of 1,370 sq feet on the second floor, and a slightly larger party room of 3,227 sq feet and a 363 sq feet warming kitchen in the basement.

This comes to a total of 3,156 sq feet of main congregation seating area. The reduced plan requires only 64 parking spaces. The previously planned 67 spaces were still proposed as before.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Board denied this application by a 4-3 vote. As the application requires Conditional Use Variance relief, a minimum of 5 affirmative votes are required for approval of the application.

The main hurdle in getting the application approved was Board Member James Hurley who complained about the 24 parking spaces closest to Whitesville Road and called them "dangerous". He insisted that he can not approve the application unless these parking spaces are moved to the adjoining lot.

Ms. Jennings vehemently objected to that condition.

Ms. Jennings also represented that Jackson Township's setback ordinances treat Houses of Worship in this zone unfairly over non-religious uses which have lower setback requirements, and that is this were an application for a non-religious use, they would comply with the ordinance. Ms. Jennings noted that appears to be in violation of the settlement with the U.S. Justice Department which requires the Township to amend their ordinances to treat religious uses equal to non-religious uses.

Mr. Hurley stood his ground and argued that imposition of such a condition would not violate RLUIPA and therefore he "feels confident in voting to deny the application."

Carl Book Jr., Scott Najarian, Steve Costanzo, and Lynne Bradley voted to approve the application. James Hurley, Raymond Lovacco, and Jeanine Kaunitz Fritch voted to deny the application.

Ms. Jennings responded "see you in court!" Mr. Hurley responded "we will see you there!"

Instead of running immediately to Court, the applicant has now asked the Board to reconsider its prior decision. The application seeks the same Conditional use variances as previously requested, as well as such other relief, as may be required, including any variances, exceptions or waivers deemed necessary by the Zoning Board or its professionals during review of the application.

Both applications for Reconsideration will be considered at public meetings, which begin at 7:00 pm in the Main Meeting Room at the Jackson Township Municipal Building, located at 95 West Veterans Highway.

Members of the public will be provided an opportunity to speak up regarding the applications.

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