Jackson Township's Planning Board tonight unanimously gave their approval to Bais Yaakov of Jackson's Site Plan application for a 4-building school campus on East Veterans Highway.

This was the Board's second hearing on this application. The Board is chaired by Tzvi Herman. Board members include Mordechai Burnstein and Shimshi Heller.

The Site Plan depicts an elementary school building that can contain 1,350 students, two high school buildings that can contain 500 students in each, and an additional 9,800 sq feet gymnasium building.

The architectural floor plans indicate that each school building will contain two stories and no basements. There doesn't seem to be any main dining area, rather each floor contains a smaller "multi-purpose room."

The use is conforming, however the application did seek one design waiver.

The parking lot, which will be accessed by two driveways on East Veterans Highway, will contain a bus lane which will be able to fit 8 buses in front of two of the school buildings and 9 buses in front of one of the school buildings. A total of 503 parking spaces are required under Jackson's zoning ordinances.

The Site Plan "technically contains" 503 parking spaces as required, however, 136 of these spaces will be "land banked / recreational area" which means that they will be used mainly for a recreational area and not actual parking.

The school's professionals agreed that annually, Township zoning officials can review the parking lot and if they determine that additional parking is required, then at that point the land banked area will be paved into parking spaces.

East Veterans Highway is currently a narrow, 2 lane collector roadway with barely no shoulders and not many traffic signals to help break traffic. Bais Yaakov's application will improve East Veterans Highway with a left turning lane and a right turning lane, as well as a traffic signal into the school.

At one point, the school's professionals suggested that the traffic signal not be required to be installed until the school is at 50% capacity. In response to continued concerns from the Board, the school's professionals agreed to install the traffic signal and widen the road prior to a Certificate of Occupancy being granted to the school.

The school proposes to operate on a septic system as extending sewer to the site is costly. This proposal requires New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approval. That application remains pending.

Board Chairman Tzvi Herman did note that the septic system also requires approval from the Jackson Township Municipal Utilities Authority (JTMUA) and that approval has recently been granted.

According to public records obtained by FAA News, at one point, the JTMUA's engineer wrote that the school's proposal to operate on a septic system was "acceptable." Subsequently, the engineer was directed by MUA staff to change the wording on their letter to say that the school's proposal to operate on a septic system was "appropriate."

Bais Yaakov of Jackson's application was represented by Attorney Donna Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A, Engineer Ian Borden of PDS Engineering, Traffic Engineer John Rea of McDonough and Rea Associates, and Architect Melissa Mermelstein, Senior Architect employed at BF Design and Associates.

Ms. Jennings has successfully handled litigation related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) on behalf of individuals and institutions who were discriminated against by unfair zoning codes and landmarking laws. 

She famously represented Agudath Israel in their lawsuit against Jackson Township in which she successfully secured a Preliminary Injunction which overturned the Township's ban against private schools, which ultimately is what permits this application to be presented as a conforming use.

As the news was first broken here on FAA News, back in November, the neighbors who have concerns regarding traffic congestion, privacy, and regarding the septic system of such a scope close to their property, held a meeting in a local shul with Mr. Aron Rottenberg, a representative of the school.

Mr. Rottenberg informed the neighbors that the school will not be a "new school for Jackson children," but rather that the existing Lakewood children will move to the new location in Jackson.

Neighbors asked if he can guarantee that their children will be able to get into the new school in exchange for them not opposing construction of the school in their neighborhood. Mr. Rottenberg immediately responded, "no way - you're not welcome in this school."

The neighbors tried to impress upon Mr. Rottenberg their concerns and they asked him to commit to planting proper trees and installing high fences. Mr. Rottenberg responded, "I won't agree here to do anything. You're welcome to fight me at the Township boards."

In response, the neighbors retained Brick Township Attorney Joseph Michelini Esq. of O'Malley, Surman, and Michelini to represent their opposition to the application.

At last months hearing, Mr. Michelini asked if the numerous "multi-purpose rooms" on each floor which have separate entrances and lobbies, as well as the gym building, would be turned into rentable banquet halls.

Mr. Rottenberg stated "no."

Noting that placement of a restrictive covenant would allow the neighbors to sue in court if they do indeed operate a banquet hall, Mr. Michelini then asked if he would be willing to place a restrictive covenant on the property that it can not be used for a rental hall. Mr. Rottenberg vehemently objected.

Mr. Michelini then asked if The Cheder's Lakewood schools have banquet halls and if yes, do those halls have Township approval.

Mr. Rottenberg responded that most of them do have halls and they all have proper Township approval for the halls.

Curiously, when the Lakewood Cheder presented their Site Plan and architectural plans to the Lakewood Township Planning Board, they depicted "open recreational space" which was then turned into two banquet halls. Lakewood Township never granted any Certificate of Occupancy for these banquet halls.

Additionally, when Beis Faiga's Gratter Building expansion presented their Site Plan and architectural plans to the Lakewood Township Planning Board, they depicted an "auditorium" which Mr. Rottenberg solemnly affirmed "will not be rented out." Lakewood Township also never granted any Certificate of Occupancy for this banquet hall.

In contrast to what Mr. Rottenberg told the neighbors, Bais Faiga Administrator Rabbi Yosef Posen told the Board that currently, 457 students are bussed daily from Jackson to Bais Faiga, and this new school located in Jackson Township will eliminate long bus rides from Jackson to Lakewood.

A number of Bais Faiga parents spoke in support of the school application.

At one point during his cross-examination of the school's architect, Attorney Michelini stated that he was being shut down by Board Attorney Bobby Shea Jr. and this is grounds for an appeal of this approval (in Superior Court).

The proposed school site is currently 3 separate lots, totalling 37.9 acres. According to public records obtained by FAA News, Bais Yaakov of Jackson already closed last year on a $3,950,000 purchase on 2 of the lots at 245 East Veterans Highway; the remaining lot at 279 East Veterans Highway is currently owned by Chaim Grunwald.

Beis Yaakov of Jackson recently received initial Ocean County Planning Board approval. Their DEP application remains pending.

Mr. Rottenberg told the Board that he anticipates that construction will commence once all approvals are in place, and that construction will take 18 - 24 months until completion.

Yehuda Tomar, a well known Jackson askan, sent out a text message urging Jackson residents to come show support for the application.

Several Board members stated that they are restrained to support this application simply because the Township's Master Plan permits the use. They added that it's high time to draw a new Master Plan which will eliminate schools, especially large school campuses, as permitted in many locations where they may not be appropriate.

As previously reported here on FAA News, The Cheder is also planning to construct a campus for their boys school near the Flair neighborhood.

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