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Lakewood Township's Zoning Board is set to once again consider Appeal #4260 Chestnut Equity, LLC, for a new 28-unit duplex development (plus basement apartments) on the north side of Route 70 between New Hampshire Avenue and Vermont Avenue.

The Board previously tabled the plan for lack of a shul and playground, and due to concerns that there were provisions for more than one basement apartment in each unit.

The developers are now returning with a plan that purports to address these concerns.

The 4.62 acre site is currently wooded, and seeks to construct driveways off Route 70 via the currently unimproved Brotman Avenue and Evergreen Blvd rights-of-way. The application would also pave Stradford Street. For simplicity, if approved by the Board, these 3 roadways would all be renamed into one single roadway.

The tract is located in the Township's B-5 zoning district which is a Highway Development Zone and does not permit duplexes. Therefore the application seeks a Use Variance from the Zoning Board to construct duplexes.

According to the traffic study conducted in September by Traffic Experts McDonough & Rea Associates Inc. (which is the firm which conducts traffic studies for nearly all land use board applications in Lakewood), this section of Route 70 westbound carries 1,065 vehicles during the 8-9am morning peak hour, and 1,465 vehicles during the 5-6pm afternoon peak hour.

An approval of this Use Variance application could add an additional 100 cars to this corridor.

The  Township's 2017 Master Plan recommends that once all collector roadways in Lakewood are sufficiently widened to provide for better traffic flow, this tract be changed into the B-5A zone which permits duplexes on 8,500 sq feet lots, provided that ingress and egress to new multi-family dwelling units be only to and from NJ Route 70 and not permitted from Chestnut Street.

The developers of the application are seeking a Use Variance, a Density Variance, and Bulk Variance relief to construct these 28 duplexes plus basement apartment in accordance with the B-5A zoning district - already now before the collector roadways are widened. (However, the plans do depict lot sizes of 10,000 sq feet.)

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in November 2022 the Board rejected an earlier version of this application which did not include a shul or playground.

Attorney Miriam Weinstein and Engineer Brian Flannery represented that application.

Mr. Flannery represented that this application would have access only to and from Route 70. Despite the paving of this section of Stradford Street, there is no chance that this will connect to the nearby Stradford Street which becomes Colonial Drive (off Chestnut Street) as there are wetlands in between here and there.

Under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55D-70) the Board can grant Bulk Variance relief as long as the applicant can testify that "the purposes of the MLUL would be advanced by the granting of the requested variances" and that "the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh any detriment." However, the MLUL also specifies that a Zoning Board may only grant a Use Variance "in particular cases for special reasons," and that 5 affirmative votes are required for approval of a Use Variance.

Mr. Flannery testified that the Township's 2017 Master Plan states that we have an insatiable need for more housing, and that the MLUL, in the "Purpose of the act" states: a) To encourage municipal action to guide the appropriate use or development of all lands in this State, in a manner which will promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare; e) To promote the establishment of appropriate population densities and concentrations that will contribute to the well-being of persons, neighborhoods, communities and regions and preservation of the environment; and that by granting the requested variances which will permit these houses to get built, the Board will "advance the purpose of the MLUL" and that "the benefit of the deviation substantially outweighs any detriment of increased traffic congestion."

Surprisingly, the Board members were not entirely impressed by this fantastic Planning testimony and they charged on with some questions.

Board Attorney Jerry Dasti additionally noted that the Site Plans indicate three separate footprints and configurations for the duplex units, however, only one floor design has been submitted. Additionally, this single floor design only matches the depicted building footprint in width, but not in the building depth and the offset between the halves.

At this point, Board Member Judah Ribiat noted that the basement floor plans appears to include 2 separate apartments (while the Township ordinance only permits one separate apartment) as there is one exterior door leading to a "guest room" and "kitchenette" on one side of the basement and a second exterior door on the other side of the basement leading to an additional kitchen, dining room and 3 bedrooms.

Mr. Flannery attempted to respond that "there will be only one separate apartment in the basement. The guest room and kitchenette area of the basement will be retained for use by the upstairs guy."

Board Member Moish Ingber retorted that "there are no interior stairs directly from the main unit to this 'retained for upstairs space' so it looks like it will be 2 apartments."

In response, Mrs. Weinstein agreed to revise the plans to show that there will be only one exterior entrance to permit only one apartment in the basement.

Mr. Dasti noted that their architectural plans are anyways insufficient as noted above, and that they should need to return with appropriate architectural plans prior to receiving any Board approval.

Board Member Meir Gelley asked for a shul. Board Member Avraham Naftali asked for a playground.

The Township's Open Space ordinance (18-808) states:
"Not less than 5% of land area of every residential major subdivision or residential site plan consisting of 25 or more units shall be preserved as common open space or shall be dedicated to active recreational or community facilities....

"For any project consisting of less than... 30 dwelling units, it is recognized as impractical that recreational facilities be constructed and the payment in-lieu-of-construction is encouraged....

"The amount of the contribution required pursuant hereto shall... not be more than $500... per dwelling unit...

"The cash bequest shall be... placed in the current budget line item designated "parks and playgrounds, other expenses." Lakewood Township reserves the right to use said funds for the above referenced purposes anywhere within the Township..."

Mr. Flannery responded that the developers will comply with the section of the ordinance that permits a $500 payment in-lieu-of-construction of a playground.

Board Member Moish Ingber pressed on that despite this cash payment provision in the ordinance, we should still get a real shul and playground here.

Board members noted that the closest shul would require walking across Route 70 and that should be discouraged at all costs. Mr. Dasti noted that "this is a closed development, so it should have its own shul."

Mrs. Weinstein offered to dedicate a basement for a shul.

Board members said that this offer isn't sufficient for this amount of families and that they can't approve an application of this scope without a proper shul.

Mr. Flannery and Mrs. Weinstein agreed to carry the application and only return once they have "a more palpable application."

Since then, the application has been revised. There is still no "proper shul," rather they are proposing to build a shul across the basements of two attached units.

Additionally, the lot lines will be modified to provide a play area in the rear yard of the homes with the shul. The Site Plan does not specify if an actual playground is proposed or if the area will just be left open. A concrete walkway from the road to the play area is depicted. It is unclear if this play area now conforms to the Township's 5% open space requirement.

It remains unclear if the Board's previous concerns that there may be two separate apartments in the basement have been addressed as no new architectural plans have yet been made uploaded.

Another item that remains to be addressed is that the Site Plan provides 4 off-street parking spaces, which is the standard provision for all new homes in Lakewood. However, the architectural plans depicts a total of 10 bedrooms in each unit, 6 upstairs and 4 in the basement; and the Township ordinance (18-807) requires 5 off-street parking spaces for homes with more than 8 bedrooms.

The Board Engineer noted in his original review letter that there are 10 bedrooms shown in the architectural plans, yet he did not call out the discrepancy in that only 4 parking spaces are provided. The Engineer's revised review letter still notes that there are 10 bedrooms shown in the architectural plans, yet he still did not call out the discrepancy in that only 4 parking spaces are provided.

Additionally, if this application is approved by the Board, the developer would need to get the Township Committee to vacate Woodycrest Avenue, an unimproved paper street on the
tract, in order to allow the application as currently configured.

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