A proposal to create a Talmudic Academy that would house 96 college-age students in an existing school on Logan Road in the Wanamassa section was unanimously denied by the Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment at the Dec. 1 meeting.
The seven-member board was forced to vote on the use variance application after the applicant, Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov, Inc., based in Lakewood, refused to sign a time waiver that would have allowed testimony to be carried to another future meeting. Under state law, a board must decide an application within 120 days unless a time waiver is signed and the Yeshiva case has been before the zoning board for more than 500 days.
Donna M. Jennings, a recently-appointed co-counsel on the application, wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to the board that the applicant has already consented to 12 time extensions, “with no end in sight.”
In the letter, she said that the delays have been “caused by the intentional, concerted efforts by township residents to slow the process down” by asking repetitive or irrelevant questions to witnesses. She also laid blame on the board for not having a better handle on the situation.
Up to 1,000 residents have shown up at some of the hearings and the meetings were eventually moved to the high school gymnasium to better accommodate the large crowds. Several hundred people showed up for Tuesday’s meeting.
“Frankly, the Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights should not be subject to the high school’s gymnasium schedule,” Jennings wrote.
The applicant pays a $2,500 fee to have a special meeting.
Jennings wrote that it was the applicant’s intention to conclude all testimony on Tuesday night, allow objectors to present their case, and then call for the board’s vote. She said applicant will “not consent to further adjournments of the hearing in this use variance application.”
Around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday night, the applicant was asked if they would sign another time waiver and they refused. The board was then required to extend the meeting and eventually vote on the case, otherwise the lack of a vote would automatically approve the use variance.
Board of Adjustment Administrator Marianne Wilensky said the board then unanimously voted to deny the application, without prejudice. Dismissing the case without prejudice means the applicant can bring it back before the board, if it so choses in the future.
Board Attorney Mark A. Steinberg said the board could not make an informed and viable decision that night so the board should move to deny the application without prejudice and then the burden will be upon the applicant to seek whatever judicial move it deems appropriate.
Yeshiva attorney Jennifer Krimko said her representation on the application ended Tuesday night and that any future legal actions on the application will be handled by Jennings’ law firm, Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer, based in Woodbridge.
In a Nov. 24 response to Jennings letter, John N. Poulos, an attorney representing a group of residents who oppose the applicant, wrote that the complaints brought by her against the board “are offensive and quite disturbing.”
“Her letter misrepresents the law, shows she has no understanding of the history of these proceedings, and is simply an attempt to bully this board into rendering a decision on the same night the applicant finally completes presenting its evidence,” he wrote.
Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov was seeking approval to use a former elementary school, at 1515 Logan Road in the Wanamassa section, to house the Talmudic academy.
The Lakewood-based school, which specializes in Rabbinical and Talmudic studies, was seeking a use variance to house 96 male students, ages 18 to 22 and who would have lived on-site, which is a 2.9-acre parcel with 336-feet of frontage on Logan Road.
The site was originally approved as an elementary school in 1989 and a dormitory use was granted in 1997 that allowed for the boarding of students in grades 9 through 12, with no student being older than 18. A maximum number of 50 people, including students and staff, were permitted on site between midnight and 6 a.m. This boarding use was eventually discontinued but still remains in effect, with the original conditions.
The proposed Talmudic Academy’s dormitory for adult-age student is not a permitted use in the zone.