By DON STINE
Ocean Township officials are considering spending $2.5 million to purchase a controversial school site on Logan Road that has been approved for a college-age yeshiva.
But first, officials want to get some feedback from as many of the township’s 30,000 residents as possible since the purchase would likely result in a tax increase of little more than $260 in total, or about $26 a year for the average $448,000 property, to repay the 10-year bond.
“Nothing is set in stone. There are a lot of options here and we are just in preliminary discussions,” Mayor Christopher Siciliano said.
Siciliano said that the proposal to purchase the property has had more than 800 positive Facebook comments and 27,000 views.
“So, for one post, this was pretty positive,” he said.
The township’s Board of Adjustment denied an application to Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov to create a yeshiva that would house up to 80 to 96 college-age male students, ages 18 to 22. The students would live the 2.9-acre site with 336-feet of frontage at 1515 Logan Road in the Wanamassa section.
Standing-room-only crowds opposed to the application attended the zoning board meetings, held in the high school due to the crowd size.
After the Board of Adjustment denied the yeshiva’s application, the school filed a 79-page complaint stating the denial is a violation of the First and 14th Amendments regarding Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. After much legal wrangling, going up to the federal court level, creating the Talmudic academy was upheld.
Ocean Township also reached a settlement over a $3.3 million lawsuit filed by Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov, which specializes in Rabbinical and Talmudic studies, over the township’s denial of its application. A $750,000 settlement was eventually reached- but the judge stipulated in his ruling that all site work at the school be done by May 31 of last year- a stipulation that the school failed to live up to.
Siciliano said that the current owners of the property, Zebra Holdings II, agreed to sell the property for $2.5 million. He said the school building could be used for township recreational activities, offices for human services, or for summer camp.
He said the township could apply for county and state grants once the property is purchased and that he anticipates that, once the property is paid for, there will be no more cost to taxpayers. He said that some of the facilities could also be rented out to generate income.
“There would be no more cost to taxpayers moving forward other than to pay the 10-year bond,” he said.
The mayor said he hopes to have some type of agreement within the next 30 to 60 days and, if it is decided to move forward, close on the property early next year.
“But there is competition (for the property) out there- and I know that,” he said.