JACKSON-Residents in attendance at the February 5th town hall planning board hearing of the first officially approved house of worship for the town’s growing Orthodox Jewish population raised safety concerns.
Issues were raised about building such a large facility on a stretch of highway that has been host to dozens of traffic-related fatalities in the past. At one time this stretch of highway was considered the deadliest highway in Ocean County before Ocean County officials installed several safety devices along the stretch of highway.
Those concerns were heard by the planning board, but at the end of the night, the board unanimously approved the application.
Safety for passing vehicles and pedestrians attending service wasn’t the only concern. One resident voiced his concern about the architectural plans on record with the township being unsigned and unsealed. He worried that the unsigned plans would allow for changes to be made to the application after the fact.
Priit Pals, a Jackson resident confirmed the process is part of a set of plans and that two times the architectural plans were unsigned and unsealed.
“If I went to the Building Department with unsigned plans, I wouldn’t be heard,” Pals told the planning board. “Approval is contingent and I feel this paper is useless and would like for the application to be carried until the applicants submitted a proper and complete package to the board.”
Councilman Ken Bressi, who also serves on the township planning board told Pals, “If the
plans come back different than what was proposed, it would be null and void; they would have to come back.”
But who is checking the plans after the board has given a final approval and the architect’s plans remained unsigned?
“Our ordinance requires the plans to be signed & sealed,” said Substitute Board Engineer Ernie Peters. “The architect’s plans are not listed in the ordinance.”
Board Attorney Gregory McGuckin advised the board it is required for purposes of approval, but at the end of the night, the plans were approved without signatures.
Jim Bezanson asked if parking on East Veterans and Grand Boulevard would be allowed.
Councilman Bressi stated there could be no parking signs along Grand Boulevard and McGuckin adviced Bezanson that there would be plenty of parking on the Synagogue’s property.
“Unless it is in the ordinance, someone could park in the street,” McGuckin corrected Bressi, again refuting claims made by the councilman.
“I have safety concerns as there will be people walking in dark clothes at 11 pm on a winding road without lights,” he said, noting the poor street lighting and lack of sidewalks along East Veterans Highway create a dangerous situation for drivers and pedestrians.
John Bryceland who already lives in the Royal Grove development told the board he saw a barrier and people are parking on Grand Blvd. already at home being used now for weekend services.
Attorney McGuckin stated the applicant is only here for their application and it can be removed by the property owner, but that the matter was separate from this application.
Bryceland had concerns of adding vehicles at the bus stops used by students of the Jackson School District and wants to keep his kids safe; he wanted it to be a condition in the resolution. Mr. McGuckin explained the ordinance permits parking based on square footage and they meet that requirement.
He added that he can contact the county for county road signs and he could approach the township for signage.
Jim Bezanson wanted an assurance from the board that no occupants will permanently reside in the facility. The applicant confirmed there will be no permanent residency at the facility.
Stephanie Potter, who lives across the street said she feels the area is a dangerous highway with many deaths in that area. She confirmed there are no plans to extend the sidewalk on her side from the developer.
“Grand Blvd. has a lot of sidewalks and none on my side,” she said. She added that, according to the project, no plans for sidewalks on her side are included.
Potter told the board, “The parking numbers don’t add up.”
Planning Board member Jeffery Riker told the board the application seems as if there will be a lot of people at certain times. Bressi advised the applicant to install curbs and sidewalks on its property along East Veterans Highway, but those sidewalks would have to be approved by the county. As there is no shoulder or curb on the northern side of East Veterans Highway, Potter was concerned about people parking their cars on her property but would call the police and report the violators as trespassers.
Gene Quintieri another nearby resident told the board the Temple will be 25 yards from the light and didn’t see how it will remain a level b intersection. He sees walkers and it’s not safe with the 50 MPH.
“Lighting in the winter is terrible,” he said.
The applicant’s traffic engineer, John Rea advised the application is 400 feet from the signal and a Level B is the average vehicle delay of 15 seconds.
Mr. Bressi stated Rea (the applicant’s paid engineer) is putting his license on the line with his testimony.
Jim Anderson, another resident stated there are a lot of fatal accidents there and semi-trucks try to make the light. He had a problem with the unsigned plans and said he had to do more with his deck permit being approved by the township than for this application.
Mr. Bressi explained when an application starts at the Zoning Board, it stays there and the same with the Planning Board.
“We weigh in our decisions and the professional testimony. If we go to Court and if approved, have to meet everything they stated tonight,” Bressi said.
Mr. McGuckin stated every application comes in with signed plans and revised plans get submitted and the Engineer checks them.
That’s why we ask if the applicant if they will stipulate on issues,” Bressi added. “We’re affected by the law and we all have opinions. We took an oath to follow the law and if
not, it can go to Court; we win most every time.”
Joseph Ricchiuti echoed the perils of East Veterans Highway and the calls for safety.
“They’ll have 100 members and it could be 200-300 members,” Ricchiuti said. “Walking on Route 528 is dangerous and the reflective vests save lives.”
Mr. Bressi verified Mr. Rea took the growth rate study into consideration. It requires him to take 10 years into the future; Mr. Rea advised he overestimates the growth
The township and the applicant admitted they have not done an accident history but felt the signal added after a fatal dump truck crash and drunken driver crash at the intersection has mitigated the possibility of accidents occurring at the spot in the future.
John Hanrahan, another Royal Grove resident testified, “I’ve been to bar mitzvahs and it seems they’ll have a lot more people. He felt the parking is unacceptable for a synagogue.”
Despite Bressi vouching for Rea on several occasions, he reminded the board that Rea is paid by the applicant and doesn’t represent the interests of the town or the residents.
Potter said she felt the county needs to address that bend in the road to make it safer for both pedestrians and drivers before the synagogue was built.
“Please make it safe,” she pleaded with the board.
“Nobody wants cars on East Veterans Highway. How will the county and the township would handle that situation?” he asked. “Are you sure there will be no overnight parking?”
Lastly, board member John Hudak questioned the applicant about the finances of the project, saying the numbers don’t add up.
“There has been an acquisition of this land and now improvement,” Hudak said. “There’s an army of professionals here and a building will be built for a congregation. There will be a Rabbi, mortgage, utilities, maintenance and no school or daycare. A 100 families to support a congregation or building; how does the multimillion-dollar project get funded?”
Attorney Ray Shea, who represents the congregation said, “Through donations.”
Shea stated the donations are part of their obligation of faith. The applicant paid $860,00 for a property the board said is valued at $460,000.
The board unanimously approved the project at the end of the hearing.
You can read the entire transcript here.