Jackson zoners deny subdivision for Swanborne homes, house of worship

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JACKSON — A 3-3 vote among members of the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment has resulted in the denial of an application seeking the subdivision of a property on which market rate single-family homes, affordable housing apartments and a house of worship were proposed to be constructed.

Following a three-hour hearing on Oct. 5 that focused on traffic issues, variances and other development details, the six sitting members of the zoning board deadlocked on a motion to grant preliminary major subdivision approval to an application filed by Swanborne, LLC.

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The application was heard by Chairman Scott Najarian, Vice Chairwoman Lynne Bradley, Jeanine Fritch, James Hurley, John Spalthoff and new member Joseph Riccardi, who was appointed to the zoning board by municipal officials after he recently left his seat on the Planning Board.

Three members of the zoning board were absent from the Oct. 5 meeting.

On a roll call vote, Hurley, Riccardi and Bradley voted “yes” on the motion to grant Swanborne, LLC, preliminary major subdivision approval, while Fritch, Najarian and Spalthoff voted “no.”

The board’s attorney, Sean Gertner, said the 3-3 vote meant the motion was denied.

The applicant has the right to appeal the zoning board’s decision in court. Swanborne, LLC, is represented by attorney John Giunco.

The affordable housing component of the application is part of Jackson’s plan to provide opportunities for the construction of affordable housing in the community.

The applicant was proposing to construct 205 single-family homes to be sold at market rates, 48 apartments in six buildings to be rented in accordance with affordable housing guidelines and a house of worship on a 159-acre parcel bounded by East Veterans Highway (Route 528) to the north, South Hope Chapel Road (Route 547) to the east and Whitesville Road (Route 527) to the south and west.

The subdivision approval, if granted, would have created the lots for each aspect of the proposed development.

When that motion failed, votes were not held on two additional applications: a site plan application for the affordable housing buildings and a site plan application for the two-story house of worship.

The house of worship’s statement of operations described that services and functions associated with Judaism, including kiddushes (repasts), bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, would be conducted in the proposed building.

The property where the development was proposed is in Jackson’s Regional Growth 2 zone and the proposed uses are conditionally permitted in that zone. The development would be served by public water and sewer utilities.

Swanborne, LLC, was seeking conditional use variance relief to permit the affordable housing buildings to have as many as eight units per building, where a local ordinance permits a maximum of four units per building. The applicant was also seeking a variance for front yard parking at the house of worship.

The Oct. 5 meeting included heartfelt statements from area residents who expressed concern about traffic the new construction would generate and its impact on local roads and intersections.

Resident Cindy Zanki said she has lived in Jackson for 50 years. She said cars leaving and entering the residential development and the house of worship would be an issue, as would deliveries from services such as Amazon and food providers.

“We have to decide if we are going to move … It’s a crazy traffic situation … it looks like a high density development that is not giving back to our community,” Zanki said.

Resident Peter Kubacz said he was concerned with “an excess of traffic flow. Pulling out of my driveway (on South Hope Chapel Road) takes 10 to 15 minutes. It’s tremendously busy already. My concern is a heavy traffic flow in a heavy traffic area.”

Resident Anne Marie Kubacz said, “I don’t understand why building and building and building is beneficial to our community. It’s time for Jackson to say ‘stop’ … My concern is the sheer volume of what you are dumping in. Please look at the quality of life in Jackson.”

Testimony provided by planner Ian Borden on behalf of the applicant indicated the single-family homes would be 3,600 square feet, 4,000 square feet or 4,200 square feet in size on a 10,000-square-foot lot (quarter-acre), and could have as many as eight bedrooms, which would require five parking spaces.

The applicant’s representatives said the parking requirement could be met in the proposed development.

Much of the testimony on Oct. 5 was provided by traffic engineer John Rea, who discussed the impact of the proposed development on three nearby signalized intersections: East Veterans Highway and South Hope Chapel Road; South Hope Chapel Road and Whitesville Road; and East Veterans Highway and Whitesville Road.

Rea noted that eight other projects have been or will be proposed in the area. He said Ocean County, which has jurisdiction over East Veterans Highway, South Hope Chapel Road and Whitesville Road, has plans to improve those roads and intersections, but the timeframe for when those improvements may be made is uncertain.

In some cases, even with the road improvements, the intersections could operate at a failing level of service if all the projects are constructed as currently envisioned, he testified.

Swanborne, LLC, has offered to make certain road improvements in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the planned development, Rea said.

Regarding the timing of road improvements, the zoning board’s planner, Ernie Peters, said the problem with the county “is that things are done reactively instead of proactively.”

“It’s in the county’s hands as to when the improvements get done,” Rea said.

The zoning board members, the board’s engineer and planner, Giunco and Rea discussed a number of issues related to traffic at length during the meeting.

At one point Rea said it has become common for a large development to have a house of worship within it, which in some cases keeps vehicles off local roads because the residents walk to the development’s house of worship instead of driving to a house of worship elsewhere in the community.

Hurley asked what type of house of worship the building would be and Rea said he assumed it “would be a shul (synagogue).”

Hurley followed up by asking if the homes in the development would be restricted for sale to one group of people, to which Rea replied “no.”

Giunco later expanded on that point, saying, “There is no intent to include or exclude any group. Any capable, willing buyer who comes into the market will be accommodated.”

After testimony had concluded, Giunco summed up his client’s case by stating that the applicant had complied with the relevant municipal criteria. He suggested the requested variances could be granted without harm to Jackson’s master plan.

“The occupancy of the homes and religious affiliation are not an issue for this board,” the attorney said.

Board members conducted their deliberations on the matter before any motion was made.

Hurley said he did not have an issue with granting a variance for the number of units in the affordable housing buildings, but he took issue with the applicant’s request for parking in the front yard of the house of worship.

Hurley said he had no issue with the concept of a residential development, but expressed concern about a finished basement possibly being used as an additional bedroom and parking issues within the development of single-family homes.

Front yard parking at the house of worship “is a negative impact on this community,” he said, adding, “I am concerned that residents (of the homes) will park at the house of worship because there will not be enough parking in the development.”

The applicant was proposing 175 parking spaces at the house of worship.

During her remarks, Bradley said, “My concern is the burden we continue to put on this area. Our struggle each time is traffic. I need better answers on traffic; on how to protect the residents and not overburden the roads.”

The board’s engineer, Evan Hill, explained there were three applications before the board: a subdivision application to create the building lots; a site plan application for the affordable housing buildings; and a site plan application for the house of worship.

After additional discussion among the zoning board members and the board’s professionals, a motion to grant preliminary subdivision approval to the Swanborne application was put forward and seconded.

A roll call vote followed and the 3-3 vote among the six sitting board members resulted in a denial of the motion to grant preliminary subdivision approval.

At that point, nearly 11 p.m., no motion was made on either of the two site plan applications and the zoning board meeting was adjourned.

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