By KENNY WALTER
LONG BRANCH — After years of litigation and intense opposition from neighbors, the long-awaited Chabad of the Shore project was approved at a special meeting Oct. 5.
During the meeting, the Long Branch Planning Board approved an application for a mixed-use project with retail on the first floor and a Jewish Community Center and school on the second and third floors.
“We’re extremely excited about the new facility, I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Rabbi Leibel Shapiro said. “We look forward to continuing to be involved in the community, we look forward to tearing down a street that’s been sitting there for many years, and we are excited to get started.”
The 1.3-acre site will be 80 percent retail on the first floor, with 20 percent set aside for the entrance to the upper floor Chabad. Shapiro said the second floor will include office space, a sanctuary and small library with a social hall and classrooms on the third floor. Shapiro said there will be a variety of educational and religious services at the new location including night classes for adults, a pre-school during the week and a Sunday school for children.
The project will take the place of a vacant movie theater and several other businesses on Ocean Avenue in the West End section of the city.
Shapiro also explained why they chose that location.
“Across the street there are many developments that we service, a lot people around here walk to our facility and it is centrally located,” he said.
In 2015, the City Council voted to amend zoning ordinances to create a C-3 West End Overlay District and permit both institutional and residential uses on the second floor of retail buildings in the zone.
The application was rejected by the zoning board because, under previous zoning, religious institutions were not a permitted use in the zone. The Chabad subsequently sued the zoning board, and the suit was put on hold after the council opted to amend the zoning in West End.
Since adoption of the zoning amendments, some residents have criticized the changes at public meetings, arguing religious institutions should not be permitted in West End, which is host to outdoor concerts, arts events, antiquing, shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
However, during last week’s meeting, no residents spoke publicly in opposition to the project.
Planning Board member Edward Thomas said the Chabad has worked with the board in creating a suitable project.
“You’ve come a long way. I thank you for working with us and accommodating all of our requests,” Thomas said. “It really is going to make a beautiful difference in West End.”