While some members and nearby residents had concerns, the Ocean Township Board of Adjustment approved an application for a massive expansion of the Hillel Yeshiva on Deal Road.
At the July 28 meeting, the board voted to approve the expansion, which includes adding a preschool, expanding and making renovations to the high school, adding tennis courts, expanding the parking lot, and making several changes to the area. These include adding a left turn lane on Poplar Road into the school entrance on Poplar Place, making other changes to the roads and traffic patterns, and moving the Oakhurst firehouse to a nearby location. Under the plan a new firehouse will be built on the corner of Poplar Road and Deal Avenue, replacing the current nearby one. This will keep the traffic from the school from causing issues with the fire department.
The expansion will allow the Hillel to add approximately 700 new students, bringing the total to about 1,600. Representatives for the school said that while this would add some new traffic, the turn lane, and a left turn only arrow from Poplar Place onto Poplar Road would partially offset that.
Traffic Engineer Justin Taylor said there would be a total of 353 parking spaces after the expansion. With 245 spots for staff (one per employee), 50 seniors given parking permits, and 20 spots for guests and visitors, they have more parking than they need, Taylor said.
But they don’t have as much parking as the township ordinances require. A project this size should have 2,195 spaces according to the regulations, and several residents in the neighborhood believed this was a major issue.
Resident Clarissa Lambert noted they only have 16 percent of the required spaces. “Asking us to reduce 1,842 spots… is not realistic,” she said.
Professionals were less concerned. Board Planner James Higgins said the ordinance is very broad, designed for any place of public assembly like auditoriums, and assumes everyone will be driving to the location. Most students will be coming by bus or dropped off by their parents.
“To require 2,000 parking spaces on the site… When you only need 350, that goes against any logic.”
They will not be visible from Deal Road, as the school buildings will block the view. This also required a variance. The buildings should be set back 100 feet from the property line, and will only be 55 feet.
The applicant argued that this was more appealing than having rows of cars visible from Deal Road, which could have been done without a variance. They also said that the trees on the other side of the road served as an extra buffer for residents worried about the view.
But this variance proved the trickiest for the board to approve. Five of the seven members needed to accept it, and the final vote was 5-2.
Board member John Fuller, who voted yes, said that the addition would be flush with the existing structures, so would not create any major issue.
But board member Richard Van Wagner believed it had been a mistake to allow the original structures so close to the road, and this was making things worse.
“I think the detriments severely outweigh the benefits, and I vote no,” he said.
Other changes planned for the area aren’t on the school grounds themselves. A left turn only lane will be added on Poplar Road to Poplar Pace, to keep traffic flowing smoothly as people try to enter the school, and a left turn only traffic arrow will be added to the light so cars can exist the building. All traffic from the Hillel exits onto Poplar Road, none from Deal Road.
A new firehouse will also be built on the corner of Poplar Road and Deal Avenue, replacing the current nearby one. This will keep the traffic from the school from causing issues with the fire department.