Teaneck Attorney Jan Meyer Esq. on Tuesday night scored yet another big win at the Lakewood Planning Board. Mr. Meyer is representing neighbors of Kollel Kodshim who are objecting to their Site Plan application.

Many neighbors who were opposed to the application packed the Board room at the public hearing.

The Board refused to vote to approve the application, instead, unequivocally telling the Yeshiva's Administration to "go sit down with the neighbors and meditate their 3 year long objections to your application."

Kollel Kodshim, which is currently located in trailers on 12th Street between Clifton Avenue and Lexington Avenue, has filed Application SP 2436 to Lakewood Township's Planning Board for Site Plan approval for a "new three-story educational building with a basement with associated off-street parking."

Their original architectural plans depicted a dormitory, which was not mentioned in the application or the legal notice provided to the neighbors. Prior to Tuesday night's public hearing, the architectural plans were revised, ostensibly to eliminate the dormitory, however, the neighbors, who were represented by Attorney Jan Meyer Esq. told the Board that the new architectural plans only created more questions and less transparency, leading the Board to table the application and urge the yeshiva administration to go to mediation with the neighbors to properly address their concerns.

The site was previously subdivided into 3 lots. One lot was sold and will remain for residential. The new Kollel building is proposed to be contained in the remaining 2 lots which will be required to be consolidated as a condition of any Board approval.

The application is seeking relief from the Board from buffer requirements as a buffer of 20 feet wide is required from a residential use, and for off-street parking setback as the proposed parking lot is about 3 feet from the sidelines.

The proposed project has double frontage along the southern side of Courtney Road and the northern side of Twelfth Street, east of Clifton Avenue. No sidewalk currently exists along Courtney Road or Twelfth Street but is proposed with this application.

Kollel Kodshim is represented by Toms River Attorney Robert Shea Esq. and Engineer Brian Flannery.

The Yeshiva has been in conflict with its neighbors for several years. Some time ago, the Yeshiva Administration summoned the neighbors to a Din Torah, seeking to bar them from objecting to their expansion plans. As previously reported here on FAA News, the Bais Din ruled that one neighbor did have the right to present objections at the Planning Board's public hearing.

On Tuesday night, the neighbors were represented by Mr. Meyer.

A key highlight of the neighbors objections is that "they are trying to make it seem this is a typical school, as opposed to a full blown house of worship." Moreover, over the past number of months, they have made several changes to their architectural design plans which appear to be futile attempts to present themselves as smaller than they actually are.

Mr. Flannery told the Board that, "the yeshiva's current location does not work anymore so, with this Site Plan application we are trying to move into an appropriate location."

Mr. Flannery testified that the parking lot would contain 15 parking spaces and that this would be sufficient for the 5 staff members and 10 married students that they are currently have. He added that the yeshiva administration is aiming to reduce the number of number of married students specifically to ensure that they do not run into a parking problem in the future.

Mr. Flannery also testified that there is not much vehicular traffic from the unmarried students as they live in the neighborhood and walk to yeshiva.

Board member Bruce Stern immediately challenged this, asking how he knows this and how the Board can confirm this operational information. Mr. Flannery responded that "this is what the administration told me."

Board member David Helmreich asked if anyone from the outside will come daven here. Mr. Flannery responded, "outside people will only come here on Shabbos, not during the week." When again pressed to explain how he can testify regarding the operations of the Yeshiva, Mr. Flannery again stated, "this is what the administration told me."

When pressed by the Board for which specific Rabbi in the yeshiva gave him information regarding the operations of the yeshiva, Mr. Feebly responded, "I've spoke to many people regarding many applications, I simply don't remember who specifically I spoke to regarding this application."

Mr. Meyer put Mr. Flannery right in his place by stating that their legal notice was for an "educational building," which the Township ordinance classifies as a House of Worship, whereas their current testimony is that this is a "school." However, if this is actually the case, the Township has stricter setback requirements for a school and they do not comply with those requirements.

Mr. Flannery attempted to respond, "nothing to worry about, I've gotten other approvals this way in the past." Mr. Meyer shot right back, "and I have gotten previous approvals tossed right out in court."

Mr. Shea stated that while the application does seek buffer relief, the adjoining property owner one side has provided a letter that he is ok with the landscaping plan. Mr. Meyer objected to presenting this letter to the Board, saying it is "hearsay," as the letter writer did not testify in person before the Board.

Mr. Meyer vehemently objected to the number of parking spaces required for the project, adding that he brought his own traffic expert who will present his own testimony regarding the correct number of parking spaces required here.

Another key contention of the application was whether or not this site qualifies as a "reverse frontage lot" due to the property being located on two streets. This was an important issue as it would determine whether or not the application would require any setback variances.

The Township's ordinance defines "reverse frontage lot" as "a lot which fronts upon two parallel streets, and is not accessible from one of the parallel streets. Reverse frontage lots shall have one front yard, one rear yard and two side yards."

Board member Moshe Raitzik asked if this application "has access from 12th Street."

Mr. Flannery responded, "no. We are closing off access from 12th Street. Therefore, this will be a reverse frontage lot, as the site will be 'not accessible' from that street."

Mr. Meyer strongly objected to this, saying that "at the current moment there is access to 12th Street, you are the ones making it so you'll have no access to that street. That does not qualify as a reverse frontage lot and therefore the application does require a variance which they have not advertised for."

Mr. Raitzik echoed these words, saying, "you could have access there."

Mr. Helmreich also questioned if the proposed number of roll out trash cans would be sufficient for a yeshiva of this size.

Mr. Meyer stated that in 2010, when the Board approved the Subdivision application which subdivided one lot into three lots, the Board recognized that this is a residential neighborhood and said this should remain residential.

Mr. Meyer impressed upon the Board that "they are trying to make it seem this is a typical school, as opposed to a full blown house of worship." Moreover, over the past number of months, they have made several changes to their architectural design plans which appear to be futile attempts to present themselves as smaller than they actually are.

The previous architectural plans depicted an Ezras Noshim on the second floor, as well as 5 dormitory rooms, 1,295 sq feet lounge, showers, and a laundry room on the third floor. Now, they have redrawn the second story room to be a more innocent "classroom," though, curiously, there are still women's restrooms adjacent to this "no longer an Ezras Noshim room."

"Additionally, have your ever seen a gym on top of a Beis Medrash? Their architectural plans are ridiculous!," Mr. Meyer added.

Mr. Flannery feebly responded, "I don't know. I didn't see the old plans until you showed them to me now."

The Board agreed that there was more questions than answers regarding the actual scope and use of the proposed building.

Board member Bruce Stern noted that the third floor plans depict two offices with a shower in them. "Why is there a shower with a private bathroom in two yeshiva offices?" he questioned.

Mr. Raitzik added that there are two unexplained coat rooms in the basement.

Mr. Helmreich said "if it looks like a duck… it’s unfair to not be forthcoming with us."

"We’ve had this discussion often. It’s not the professionals’ jobs to opine what's really going on here. That is our job. If you present it to Terry as a classroom with two showers, that’s how he looks at it. But we have a lens of discretion here," Mr. Helmreich added.

Chairman Moshe Neiman agreed, saying, "if it’s a shul, then there are parking requirements for a shul. If it’s a yeshiva, there are parking requirements for a yeshiva. We need clarity here from the applicant. Come back with a clear plan so we know exactly what's going on here."

Board Attorney John Jackson Esq. stated, " Mr. Meyer is sufficiently bringing up the point that this might be more than meets the eye, and the Board has to consider this. Mr. Meyer’s point has been made and it seems to have struck a chord. The applicant is being asked to come back with clarity and answers to these questions."

"We can only vote on this with a clear conscience. Currently this application is sorely lacking clear picture testimony from the Rabbi as to how many students this building will actually contain," Mr. Neiman stated.

Mr. Shea attempted to keep the application on track, saying, "we will be more than happy to provide that. We have no problem providing details of the operations. The Board has the ability to impose reasonable conditions as well."

Mr. Neiman pushed back hard, saying, "there has been ongoing tension with the neighbors for the last 3 years. I don't feel comfortable being forced into position to settle such a contentious matter as I am scared my grandchildren will not be allowed into school if I vote the wrong way. I recommend that you sit down with a mediator and try to work this all out."

Committeeman Albert Akerman chimed in, adding that he would be willing to sit down with people from the school and the neighborhood. He added that if need be, he would do this as a committee member and recuse himself from sitting on this application if it does return to the Planning Board in the future.

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