By DON STINE
Ocean Township has entered into a contract to purchase the 2.9-acre property on Logan Road, where a yeshiva had been planned, for $2 million. The yeshiva’s controversial proposal, to house up to 80 to 96 college-age male students, was a major source of controversy in the township.
“There was overwhelming support by residents to acquire the property,” Mayor Christopher Siciliano said.
An ordinance to approve issuing just over a $2 million, 10-year bond was introduced at the last Township Council meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for Thurs., Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. The cost will result in an increase, at the most, of $31.92 a year, or $2.66 a month, for the average property assessed at $448,000. This cost will disappear after 10 years.
Siciliano said that there is also no loss of tax revenue since the property was a school and has always been tax exempt. The cost was also negotiated down from $2.5 million to $2 million, a savings of $500,000.
“We have a contract to purchase the property and, if the bond ordinance is approved, I believe we can close by the end of March,” Siciliano said.
The mayor said that township officials got a lot of input about buying the property and suggestions as to what to do with it in the future.
“And some of the ideas for the future use of the building were pretty interesting,” he said.
One suggestion is to put all of the township’s pre-K classes in the building, which was always a school, and end the placement of students through a lottery.
Right now, the Ocean Township school district has three pre-K classes, one in each elementary school. Special needs students have first placement in these classes with the remaining seats filled through a township-wide lottery.
Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said the district has no information about a proposal to put pre-k students there and that there is no proposal to move them.
“I just want to stress that on a district level we have not been involved in any discussion on this subject but we always willing to have a conversation,” he said.
Siciliano said there are many other uses for the building and that the options “are wide open.”
A few years ago, 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 have lived on 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 (RLUIPA) and Fair Housing 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 and 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 last year- a stipulation that the school failed to live up to.
Siciliano said that the current owners of the property, Zebra Holdings II, has agreed to sell the property for $2 million.