LONG BRANCH: A heavily-contested plan to build a synagogue in the West End section of Long Branch could be on the city planning board agenda's soon.
The newly-created C-3 West End Overlay District will allow Menachem Learning Institute, also known as Chabad Of The Shore, to submit a new application to build a synagogue in the former home of a movie theater and a chain of stores to the south.
The new zoning, which was given the blessing of the Long Branch Planning Board but has yet to be approved by the Long Branch Council, allows for institutional and residential uses over commercial uses. The previous zoning in West End did not allow for any institutional use or mixed use, so Menachem was required to obtain a use variance from the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The plan included the demolition of the movie theater on Ocean Avenue and two stores south of the structure; Mike's West End Deli, which is now vacant, and Lou's Uniforms. There are also two vacant apartments above the stores.
That board denied the group the use variance in 2013, which led to Menachem suing the city later that year.
The litigation is currently on hold as the city and Menachem have worked together to create a new plan that is acceptable for both sides.
"We've been very careful over the years of not changing zoning ordinances while any applications are in front of the zoning board," Mayor Adam Schneider said at the March 24 Long Branch Council meeting.
"We never wanted to be in the position to influence for or against any kind of an application while its having a hearing," Long Branch Assistant Planning Director Carl Turner added.
The new plan will likely call for a synagogue and religious center on the second floor of the old movie theater site with a commercial use on the first floor. Turner said the lower floor could also wrap to the west along the side of West End Park.
"So you would have a commercial frontage that could possibly be for a restaurant or something along the edge of the park, creating a parks cape," Turner said.
Turner said the new plan would still be a conditional use so Menachem would still face a "stricter standard or ordinances they would have to comply with."
The plan would also require the parking lot behind the theater to be expanded and Chabad of the Shore would have to share its parking with the other uses in the area.
"With this proposal, the parking will be shared parking," Turner said.
The new zoning would also allow the Brighton Avenue building destroyed by a 2012 fire to rebuilt as it was with stores on the first floor and residential units on the second floor. It would also allow New Jersey Repertory to create a theater use at the former West End School.
All three projects would have to approved by the Long Branch Planning Board before moving forward.