BRICK – Traffic jams and religious rights were the focus of a hearing Monday over a proposed Orthodox Jewish school for boys that seeks a waiver before the Brick Board of Adjustment.
The Kehilos Yisroel congregation of Lakewood wants to convert most of a temple at 200 Van Zile Road into a Talmudic school for boys aged 14 to 17.
No decision has been made on the proposal, which has upset some neighbors – in part because the school began operating over the summer without notice from the community. It later closed, but the plans for the school are still alive and well.
David Pollak, the school administrator, told the board at the 5:30 a.m. meeting that the school day would start at 7:50 a.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. for younger students and end at 9 p.m. h 30 for older students.
Students would leave early on Friday to join their families before sunset for the Sabbath and return to class on Sunday, he said.
No more than a hundred students would be enrolled, he said.
Plans submitted to the council show that the main structure on the 4.11-acre land will include four classrooms that can accommodate 100 students, a kitchen, offices, a sanctuary and a multi-purpose room that can accommodate an additional 574 people.
About a quarter of the building would be used for religious services by around 40 to 50 members of the congregation, Pollak said.
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The congregation is seeking a âchange of useâ waiver before the board, but schools and places of worship are allowed in the Van Zile Road neighborhood, said attorney Adam Pfeffer, who represents the congregation.
“The township has already decided that this is an appropriate area, both for the place of worship and the school,” he told the board.
Pfeffer also cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act during the hearing, noting the federal law’s protections against religious discrimination.
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Passed by Congress in 2000, the law protects religious institutions from “unduly restrictive or discriminatory land use regulations,” according to the US Department of Justice.
The law prohibits government entities from discriminating between religions, imposing a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, and requires that they treat places of worship as favorably as non-religious assemblies, such as fellowship halls. and banquet halls.
âRefusing the request would weigh heavily on the religious exercise of the congregation,â Pfeffer said. “The congregation here has no readily available alternative (to the school building) and the inability to function will prevent it from fulfilling its religious mission of teaching Orthodox Jewish students in religious and secular matters.”
Council attorney Ronald D. Cucchiaro said council members should âharmonizeâ federal law, state laws and municipal land use rules in their decision-making. He said the board was obligated to use its approval or denial powers in the âleast restrictiveâ manner by federal law.
Professionals and council members spent much of the audience asking questions about the impact of parental pick-up and drop-off on traffic in the neighborhood, which is already the main thoroughfare for buses to and from Veterans Memorial elementary and middle schools.
The board has not made a decision on the waiver request. Instead, at 11:30 p.m., board members voted to continue the hearing on February 16. The next meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. at Civic Plaza, 270 Chambers Bridge Road.
Experts from the Kehilos Yisroel congregation are expected to discuss the traffic impacts in more detail at the February meeting and also be turned away by a lawyer hired by neighbors of the proposed school.
Joe Orth, a vocal critic of the congregation’s plan, said he helped hire a lawyer to oppose the proposal, but due to a personal emergency the lawyer was not present at the Monday hearing.
In September, Orth helped a group of protesters cross the neighborhood to oppose the school, which at the time was operating without board approval.
After its initial opening in August, the school was forced to close by a Superior Court judge in response to a lawsuit filed by Brick officials. Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson ordered school safety inspections and ordered congregation officials to present their plans to The Brick Land Use Board, to ensure the building was safe for the students.
Prior to the judge’s order, Pfeffer had argued that a hearing with the land use board was not necessary because the temple had held religion classes under its former owner.
In November, the Van Zile Road property was cited by Brick’s code enforcement officials for having dead trees and trash on site, boarded up windows and a shabby fence. The violations have since been corrected, board officials said on Monday.
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Amanda Oglesby is originally from Ocean County and covers the townships of Brick, Barnegat and Lacey as well as the environment. She has worked for the press for over a decade. Contact her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected] or 732-557-5701.