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Jackson Township's Zoning Board previously denied to grant a Use Variance which would have legalized Yotzer Ohr Torah Academy's operations, effectively ordering the school to shut its doors.

Tonight, the Board reconsidered and granted a Use Variance for the school.

Yotzer Ohr, located at 950 Maplehurst Avenue, is a very small school with less than 20 students. Their aim is to provide very individualized attention to girls who do not conform to typical Beis Yaakov schools and need more nurturing than the classic Lakewood school system provides.

They study (on-site) mainly using the online Acellus homeschooling program. They also have limudei kodesh classes from in-person teachers.

There is no dormitory on site so the students are dropped off and picked up each day.

On November 22, 2021, Yotzer Ohr received a Notice of Violation from the Township's Code Enforcement Department for an illegal Change of Use from a single family home to a school.

The site is located in the Industrial Zone where schools are not a permitted use.

The school initially filed an appeal to the Zoning Officer of this Enforcement. That appeal was denied.

In response to the Code Enforcement violation, the school submitted a Use Variance application to the Zoning Board to legalize their operation.

At their initial public hearing back in June 2023, Attorney Donna Jennings Esq., representing the school, told the Zoning Board that they meet the positive criteria for the granting of a Use Variance as they are an inherently beneficial use, and they meet the negative criteria - which requires that the variance cannot be granted without a showing that the proposed use will not substantially impair the intent and purpose of the zoning ordinance and master plan - as a small high school, with minimal traffic and on-site parking, would be much less of an impact than the industrial uses which are permitted by-right on the site.

The school's owners also requested an additional Use Variance to permit the existing structure to remain as a single family home to be used for the use of the owners family on Shabbos.

Board members were also perturbed to hear from Dr. Siegel that the school size recently went down from 15 to 9 students because some students were expelled due to the use of drugs of failure to adhere to the basic dress code. The Board members stated that once a school accepts a student, they should be expected to work with the student to keep them afloat without regard to their skirt size.

Dr. Siegel also stated that some of the students needed to switch from mainstream schools due to learning disabilities. Board members responded by questioning if Yotzer Ohr has the capabilities to properly assess their learning level or if perhaps only public schools have the capabilities to do such testing.

Board members also questioned if these students need to attend Yotzer Ohr all day, or if theoretically they could attend public school for general studies. Ms. Willentz shot back, "perhaps theoretically your daughters could attend this school, but we all know that that won't happen!"

Mr. Hurley closed the meeting by saying that the need for this particular school was not presented sufficiently enough to persuade him to approve the application. He offered a motion to deny the application. The vote in support of the denial was unanimous.

After several hours of testimony, including various comments from the public, the Board voted to deny the Use Variance.

At tonight's reconsideration hearing, the school eliminated the request to use the existing structure to remain as a single family home to be used for the use of the owners family on Shabbos.

Ultimately, the Board voted 5-1 to approve the application.

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Anonymous said...

We need more of such schools for students that need that extra attention.

A Jackson Resident said...

Mrs Parnes courageously, respectfully and eloquently pushed back against Mr Hurley and articulately made the case for the school being okayed, ultimately taking the initiative to make the motion to approve, kudos to her

Anonymous said...

this has to stooooooooooooooooooooooooooooop.