By DON STINE
An overflow crowd of concerned Ocean Township residents packed a hearing last week over a proposal to create a Talmudic Academy on Logan Road, which would house 96 college-age students, on Logan Road.
Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov, Inc., based in Lakewood, is seeking approval from the Board of Adjustment to use a former elementary school, at 1515 Logan Rd. in the Wanamassa section, to house the academy. The proposed Talmudic Academy is not a permitted use in the zone and five out of the seven zoning board members, or two thirds, must vote in favor for any use change to go into effect.
More than 136 people, the room’s capacity, attended the Dec. 11 meeting and the township fire marshal announced that anyone else coming to the meeting would have to stand in an adjacent hall.
Most residents were from the township’s Wanamassa section, where the academy will be located. Resident Christine Schmitt has started a petition drive on Change.org to stop the project and comments from residents are posted on the website.
Ed Horn, who lives on Logan Road near the proposed yeshiva, said he does not know of a single person in his neighborhood that supports the project.
“It’s not the fact they are putting a yeshiva there – that doesn’t matter to me. It’s not the yeshiva- it’s the fact that people will be staying there overnight and I feel that will affect the quality of our neighborhood,” he said.
Horn said that a former elementary school at the same site used to have some of its students sleep overnight as well.
“It was loud, they were making a mess, and it was horrible. And I expect nothing different this time. They want to turn this site into something that will not contribute to our neighborhood in any way and may be a detriment,” he said.
And Horn said he hopes area residents keep coming to the meetings and opposing the project.
“It’s good to see everybody turning out and concerned for their neighborhood and town. And I hope even more people turn out,” he said.
The next public hearing on the application will be on Thursday, Jan. 8, after which time the board may look into having special meetings to more quickly move the process forward.
The school, which specializes in Rabbinical and Talmudic studies, is seeking a use variance to house about 96 male students, ages 18 to 22 and who will live on-site.
According to previous testimony from the applicant, the academy allows no smoking, no going off campus to fraternize, and no cars brought to the seminary or its vicinity. Students are also not allowed to leave the facility at night.
Rules and regulation at the academy will be under supervision of the dean.
The site for the proposed one-story academy is located on a 2.9-acre parcel with 336-feet of frontage on Logan Road.
At last week’s meeting, project manager Dave Boesch, with Nelson Engineering based in Ocean Township, testified about revisions being proposed to the original site plan, particularly to parking.
He said that 27 parking spots are on the site now and that another 23 would be built. He added that another 40 “green” parking spaces can be provided if needed in the future.
He said there would also be significant buffering in certain areas, including a six-foot-high vinyl fence, evergreen trees and other landscaping.
Some residents were concerned about access for trucks to the site, storm water runoff from the site into a nearby brook, and noise, particularly during refuse pickups.
Boesch said a higher fence and additional buffering can be provided around the refuse collection area to help minimize noise. He said that the site now has less impervious surface than before and that county- mandated soil conservation methods will have to be adhered to during any renovations.
The site was originally approved as an elementary school and a conditional use approval was granted in 1997 to allow 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 and the building reverted back to strictly an elementary school.
The site is surrounded mostly by residential properties, with the Dave Dahrouge Park across Logan Road and some commercial properties to the west.
The current application is similar to one presented to the Board of Adjustment several years ago but which was eventually withdrawn due to neighborhood resistance. The site then proposed for the school was at the old historic home, known as Copper Gable, which is now an office building, on Deal Road.