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It was a busy night for Lakewood's Zoning Board. First the Board complained that they wish they could retract their 2019 Use Variance approval for a retail shopping center, then they unanimously the Site Plan without a key stipulation of their 2019 approval - extra parking.

The 4.96 acres site, at 752 Cross Street in front of The Parke, a planned development of 514 duplex homes plus basement apartments on the current Eagle Ridge golf course, is located in the M-1 zoning district which permits primarily industrial uses, schools, and hotels, but no retail shopping centers.

Back on April 8, 2019, New Hampshire Investments, LLC (owned by Saul Mizrahi) presented Appeal # 4100 to the Zoning Board, seeking a Use Variance to permit a two-story (including basement), 88,135 sq foot retail building with up to 20 stores on this property. The application was represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq. and Engineer Brian Flannery.

Board member Hal Halvorsen pushed back, saying that Cross Street already has way too much traffic congestion and it can't contain a large retail shopping center as well.

In response, Mr. Flannery cheerfully explained that no one is upset about "traffic flow," but rather will "traffic congestion," and that the County is planning on major road improvements which will improve traffic congestion along the entire stretch of Cross Street.

Chairman Abe Halberstam echoed Mr. Halvorsen's words, saying, "there are a lot of houses already approved in this whole area and they do need a shopping center, however, it has to work even better than other shopping centers. So, today we will grant a bifurcated approval only for the use of a retail shopping center, with no specific size of square footage, and when you come back with your Site Plan application, you need to bring us the County's actual traffic improvements plan and we will take a careful look at the existing traffic as well as the planned road improvements and the size of the shopping center that we will approve at that point will be based on the actual traffic improvements."

Mr. Flannery agreed, saying "we understand that our shopping center proposal can't create any negative traffic impact. At the time of our future Site Plan application, we will present a traffic study which will show all actually planned traffic improvements and represent that traffic will flow at acceptable levels."

Flannery also added that "I anticipate that we will show that most of the traffic will be passers-by anyways and not new traffic coming from across town or Jackson."

To that effect, Mr. Flannery testified that while they do not yet have any potential tenants lined up, when they present their Site Plan, they will have their tenants lined up and they will not have any supermarkets, rather they will be "smaller, local neighborhood stores."

Mr. Flannery added that they will provide a sidewalk along their frontage.

Board Member Moshe Lanky added that instead of just providing the exact number of required parking spaces, they should provide "125% of parking."

The Board's Resolution of Approval, which was prepared by Board Attorney Jerry Dasti, notes the condition of "no supermarkets" and that the final size of the retail center will be based on the actual traffic improvements. However, the Resolution does not list the condition of providing a sidewalk or that they will provide more parking than required.

New Hampshire Investments, LLC last night returned to the Zoning Board for amended Preliminary and Final Major Site Plan and Minor Subdivision approval for the construction of this retail shopping center.

The plans depict a two-story, 88,135 sq foot retail building with 20 retail units. The first floor will contain 43,475 sq feet of shopping area. The basement will contain 44,460 sq feet of storage area.

A total of 224 parking spaces - which purports to conform exactly to the Township's requirements of 1 space per 200 sq feet of retail shopping floor area.

[This only counts parking for the first floor and not for the basement. The may not be accurate as the Township Ordinance (18-807B) states:

"Retail trade or personal service establishments, other than in a shopping center of 100,000 square feet or more: one space for each 200 square feet of gross floor area."

The ordinance clearly states "gross floor area", and the Township's Definition of Terms ordinance (18-200) defines floor area as "the sum of the gross horizontal areas of the several floors of the building, measured from the exterior faces of exterior walls or from the center line of walls separating two buildings", i.e. the sum of the gross horizontal areas of the several floors of the building are clearly included in the Gross Floor Area and should therefore require parking as well.]

Either way, even if it does accurately meet the Township's parking requirements, it certainly does not provide the 125% parking that Mr. Lankry stipulated as a condition of the Use Variance approval.

The architectural plans submitted do not list the tenants or types of stores, however, the floor space is between 1,600 - 2,840 for each store.

Finally, the Board previously made it super clear that the Site Plan approval, and specifically, the size shopping center that they approve will be dependent on the existing traffic congestion, the actual planned improvements to Cross Street, and also based on a "close look" at their traffic study.

Firstly, as just recently reported here on FAA News, Ocean County is now out to bid on their widening of phase I of Cross Street, so we now know for certainty that their major widening project is only for an additional center left turning lane and not for a 4-lane roadway.

Additionally, let's take a look at their Traffic Study, which was prepared by Dynamic Traffic. Their traffic study, which counted "existing traffic volumes and added traffic associated with nearby developments approved by the Township but not yet been constructed at the time of the counts," is dated January 26, 2017 and last revised September 26, 2017!

Once they tabulated these numbers, they calculated how many vehicular trips the proposed shopping center will generate during the roadway's peak traffic hours.

Their "study" counts 26 trips in and 16 trips out during the AM peak hours! Wow! Appears that their 20 stores with 224 parking spaces will be quite empty during the morning peak hours! What a shud!

Typically, when the Planning Board reviews by-right applications, traffic studies are not so important as anyways the Planning Board is very limited in reviewing off-site traffic impact. However, being that this is a non-permitted use at the Zoning Board, the Zoning Board does have latitude to consider off-site traffic. In this case, the Zoning Board has already granted a Use Variance, however they did clearly stipulate that their Site Plan approval will be dependent on how rosy the traffic study looks. Apparently they got what they asked for, because the developer got Dynamic Traffic to color a rosy looking traffic study!

Oh, and by the way, from reviewing Board Engineer Terry Vogt's review letter, you won't know that the Board made any conditions when approving the Use Variance, as Mr. Vogt does not mention them at all!

For all these questions, there were not too many answers at last night's public hearing.

Board Member Avraham Naftali opened up by complaining that he regretted having already given the key Use Variance for a retail shopping center here, saying that Cross Street is now way too busy for such a use.

Board Member Moish Ingber echoed his words, saying "I agree, Cross Street is completely different now. Plus their traffic report is years old."

Engineer Brian Flannery cheerfully responded that they purposely used a pre-Covid traffic report as they assume that now, more people work from home and therefore there are less cars traveling the roads.

Board Member Meir Gelley tried to push back, saying that "ideally we should build shopping centers on corner lots with access to 2 separate roads. This will only have access to Cross Street."

Mr. Flannery responded, "you should only reject our Site Plan if you have a logical reason to do so. However, all I have heard are traffic concerns. The County is already soliciting bids for a 3-lane roadway along this section of Cross Street, plus they are also designing a future 5-lane roadway, so traffic is getting addressed appropriately."

Mr. Gelley suggested that instead of 20 small stores, they should build one big store. Mr. Pfeffer reminded him that back in 2019, the Board expressly stipulated exactly the opposite, and therefore they designed a project with a bunch of smaller stores.

Mr. Flannery told the Board that all stores will have loading areas in the rear of the building, and that the basement will be for storage use only, with no access from the outside.

Board members discussed the planned traffic signal at the Cross Street intersection with the new road leading into The Parke development. They mentioned that the Planning Board's approval of the General Development Plan permits construction of over 300 homes before the traffic signal needs to be installed.

Mr. Flannery conceded that although they are not agreeing to any specific condition that there be no Certificate of Occupancy on the retail center until the traffic signal is installed, construction on the shopping center is still "years away" as they require a revised County approval as well as drainage and sewer.

Mr. Flannery also noted that, while the hearings for the General Development Plan were full of seniors who were objecting to the application, no seniors came tonight to object as, as previously reported here on FAA News, the seniors have also executed a global settlement on the matter.

Board Member Avraham Naftali offered a motion to approve the application, saying that duplexes could be developed here and "retail is better as long as there is proper parking."

The motion passed unanimously.

No Board Member made any mention at all of their 2019 stipulation of 125% parking for this Site Plan.

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Anonymous said...

It's amazing how this system is so undemocratic. These supposed experts control the outcome of each vote.
Lakewood and Jackson residents need better representation on the boards rather than the developers who only care about their pocketbooks and board members who are power hungry.
Look how Meir Gelley who fairly made a suggestion and was struck down with a nonsense counter reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Fewer cars on Cross St. now than 2020? That doesn't pass the smell test as anyone who drives there daily will tell you.

Simcha Steinberg said...

Mr. Naftali misapplied the Negative Criteria for the granting of this application.

He stated that duplexes could be built here and that retail would be a less intense use.

This is inaccurate as duplexes are not a permitted use in the M-1 Zone which permits schools and industrial uses (which are definitely way less intense than a retail shopping center).

Anonymous said...

Is Board member Naftali losing his mind? How does he forget what's a permitted use in the M-1 zone? It's because of dumb mistakes like this that the other members are misled to grant unwarranted approvals.

And how did the Board allow Lyin' Brian to get away with his joke-of-an-excuse to allow an over 4 year old traffic report from 2018 to be used to justify this 2023 development proposal? The law is clear that a traffic report cannot be dated more than TWO years prior to the land use hearing?!