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Howell board considers appeal of Ford Road school’s rejection

By Jennifer Ortiz
Staff Writer

HOWELL — The Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment is considering an applicant’s appeal to reverse the township zoning officer’s denial of the proposed development of an educational facility on Ford Road.

The board’s attorney, Ronald Troppoli, said, “This is actually an appeal of the zoning official’s determination, as well as a (request for) a use variance. The first thing that is going to be considered … is the appeal.”

Zeev Rothschild is the applicant and president of Congregational Kollel, Lakewood, who wants to construct the educational facility for Jewish Talmudic studies on a 10-acre parcel at 344 Ford Road, Howell.

Attorney Christopher Costa, representing Rothschild, said the site would include one two-story school/educational building, two two-story dormitory buildings and three two-story townhouse buildings for faculty housing. An existing home on the property would remain.

“My client is seeking two bases of relief at this stage and then at a later stage there will be a site plan,” Costa said. “At this stage we are seeking an appeal of the zoning officer’s decision and at a later date, as part of this proceeding, we will be returning for a use variance if we do not prevail on the appeal of the zoning officer’s decision.”

Rothschild testified during the Dec. 21 zoning board meeting. The next hearing on the matter is set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29.

Costa said that in a letter dated Aug. 31, 2015, zoning officer Chris Jackson denied Rothschild approval to construct an educational facility with student and faculty housing on Ford Road.

Jackson said although the property is zoned ARE-2 and allows for educational facilities, housing for students and faculty members is not a permitted use.

Jackson said only one principal structure is permitted on a lot. The concept plan submitted by the applicant reflects four principal structures, he wrote.

“If you wish to pursue the educational facility you must make application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a use variance. At this time your application is denied,” Jackson wrote.

Costa said he is appealing the zoning officer’s determination on the grounds that the student and faculty housing is part of the principal educational facility use.

“By its basic definition, educational facilities include multiple uses … including housing. The applicant’s proposed facility falls within this basic definition,” Costa said.

Costa said the relevant municipal ordinance permits multiple principal buildings for several different use categories.

“Most importantly, it allows for multiple principal buildings where there are public or institutional building complexes. An educational facility such as the one the applicant is proposing is an institutional use,” the attorney said.

Costa asked the zoning board members to reverse Jackson’s ruling and to allow the application to proceed before the Howell Planning Board as a permitted use of the Ford Road property as an educational facility.

Rothschild currently operates Congregation Kollel in Lakewood. He said Talmudic scholars who study at the academy are typically in their 40’s. He is proposing a new facility in Howell for students between the ages of 14 and 22.

At maximum capacity, the Howell site would educate about 190 students in two programs (one program for students age 14 to 17 or 18; and one program for students age 17 or 18 to 21 or 22), according to the testimony.

Rothschild said about 140 students would live in dormitories. The remaining 50 students would be transported to and from the school by bus. There would be about one instructor for every 15 students.

Faculty members will live on the property.

During public comment, resident Todd Banwell said, “There has not been any discussion of water or sewer (service). The question I have is this: is the result of any of the things they are going to do going to cost me money? Chances are this will … That is one thing I ask you to consider.”

The zoning board’s professionals said specific engineering issues are not being considered at this stage of the application. They said the board’s first task is to consider Rothschild’s appeal of the zoning officer’s decision.

Resident Tom Richards asked if a house of worship would be constructed at the site.

Rothschild said there are no plans to build a synagogue at the site.

Richards asked if students would leave at the end of the term and if they would pay rent.

Rothschild said students might be allowed to stay.

“Chances are they can stay for both parts of (the schooling), which is four and three years. They will pay tuition, not rent,” he said.

Resident David Kelly asked how many buses would enter and exit the site each day, but Rothschild said he could not answer that question at this time.

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