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Despite all the previous pinky swears from school developers that "the very next school that they bring to Newport Avenue will provide a second access roadway," the Lakewood Planning Board once again approved a school on Newport Avenue without any provisions for the previously "assured" second access road.

Last week, the Lakewood Township Planning Board granted Site Plan approval to Nachlas Bais Yaakov for a new school on Newport Avenue - with zero provisions for the secondary access road to Newport Avenue that the Board was previously assured was "on its way with the very next application."

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in March 2022, the Planning Board was presented with an application for a large child care center 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.

Board Member Moshe Raitzik 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 Boulevard."

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Board was first tested on upholding this "assurance" back in August 2022 when Yeshiva Gedola of South Jersey presented their Site Plan application. When 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."

And just like that, the Board let the Yeshiva application slide right by with zero provisions for an additional access road.

And now, once again, the Board has allowed yet another school to slide right by with zero provisions for an additional access road.

The good news is that they did get some concessions from the developers of the school.

Back in December 2022, mere days after the Lakewood Planning Board voted to endorse the Township Committee's then-pending ordinance permitting banquet halls as an accessory use in schools in non-residential zones only, the Board was tested with an application presented by Nachlas Bais Yaakov which sought to build a school with a banquet hall at 253 Newport Avenue which is a residential zone.

Per the Site Plan and building architectural plans provided at the time, the school proposed 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 depicted 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 contained 179 off-street parking spaces.

At the public hearing, Nachlas Bais Yaakov was 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 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 conceded 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 Board then tabled the application until the February 7, 2023 public hearing to give the applicant ample time to address the concerns of the Board and the neighbors.

At the February 7 public hearing the developers of the school returned with a scaled down plan to construct just one single three-story school building with a finished basement which will contain a daycare for the children of the staff only (and no banquet hall). 178 parking spaces were proposed.

Above: newly scaled back plan
Below: original campus with 2 school buildings and a gym

Board members questioned the parking count, noting that there were numerous proposed tutor rooms and nurses offices for which it appeared sufficient parking was not provided.

Mr. Flannery tried desperately to speed up their approval by assuring the Board that "during resolution compliance" (which is done with the Board professionals and not in public) "we can go over the plans and count the rooms to ensure our parking calculations are correct."

To their credit, board members pressed for the promised secondary road.

Mr. Flannery pushed back, saying "there was discussion about doing a second exit onto Bellevue, but I don’t think that will help and Scott Kennel will testify to that. "

Mr. Helmreich pushed right back, saying "I’m of the opinion that we requested a year ago that no more schools be built without a second egress."

Mr. Flannery brazenly responded, "that was the last applicant that got an approval and not this applicant. This applicant has property zoned for schools and we are asking for an approval and we are working out what we will agree to. "

The Board then discussed getting the entire Newport Avenue from Cross Street to Bellevue Avenue widened, noting that "you can’t fit two buses passing each other without that road installed."

Mr. Pfeffer evasively responded that "the Board Engineer's letter indicates that all projects need to be served by a 32 foot wide road. We have to do our fair share of road widening. As a condition of any approval, we agree to sign a Developer’s Agreement with the Township, who will do their due diligence as well to see what needs to happen before Certificate of Occupancy can be issued.


The Board responded that as a condition of any approval, this school will not be open - including no trailers - until the entire length of Newport Avenue from Cross Street to Bellevue Avenue is widened.

Mr. Pfeffer requested to table the application for 2 weeks so the applicant could meet with the other new school property owners on the block to see when they will be read to construct their schools and widen their frontage of Newport Avenue.

At last week's public hearing, the developers of the school agreed to widen the entire length of Newport Avenue from Cross Street to Bellevue Avenue to 32 feet wide already now, before they receive their Certificate of Occupancy, and to request from the Township to restrict parking along both sides of the road.

They explained that instead of waiting for the other new school property owners on the block to chip in for their portion of the road, they are agreeing to do the work now on their own and to seek to collect from the other property owners in the future.

They also agreed to accommodate the neighbors with the fencing and plantings that they requested.

So... we got an agreement of no banquet hall and a widened Newport Avenue, but not the secondary road we were "solemnly assured."

Promises made, promises not kept.

In related news, 2 acres of land on Newport Avenue just changed hands in a $2.1 million sale.

The child care lot was originally a 5.43 acres lot. The developers of the child care center subdivided this lot into a 3.43 acres lot for the child care center as well as two more lots of about 1 acres each. Those 2 acres have just recently been sold to Yeshiva Heichal Hatalmud for $2,100,000.

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Anonymous said...

But the child center was NEEDED in the area, they had all testified!

Anonymous said...

I feel so bad for the neighbors.