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Religious, Retail Mixed Use Project Approved For West End

LONG BRANCH: A mixed use project which includes retail on the first floor and religious uses on the second and third floors has been given unanimous approval by the Long Branch Planning Board.

Chabad Of The Shore, a non-profit religious and educational institution currently located at 620 Ocean Ave., received site plan approval for their planned construction at 602-624 Ocean Ave. during the Oct. 5 planing board meeting.

The site currently includes a vacant movie theater and several closed stores which will all be demolished to make way for the new building.

The building's first floor will include space for seven retail stores, including what could be a restaurant in the northernmost portion. The types of retail stores have not yet been decided, and Chabad's attorney, Stephen Tripp, said there are currently no limitations as to the type of businesses that will be allowed, as long as they are accepted uses in the zone.

"We're trying to be as flexible as possible," Tripp said.

The second floor will include a sanctuary, social hall, library, kitchen, offices, patio, small group assembly area, and related facilities. The top floor will include classroom space for religious schooling and daycare.

Onsite parking will be provided to the rear of the building, and will be accessible via West End Court and Brighton Court. The lot will have 94 parking spaces that can be shared with surrounding neighborhood when they are not being used by the Chabad for special services.

Director of the Chabad of The Shore, Rabbi Leibel Schapiro, said there will be morning services during the week and on Saturday mornings, with the weekday services having about about 20 people and Saturday morning services attracting over 100 people in the summer and as many as 60 in the winter.

Schapiro said he feels the center will be a "positive change for everyone."

"We look forward to being a part of the community," Schapiro said.

The C-3 West End Overlay District allowed Chabad Of The Shore to apply to planning board and not the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment, which denied the group's previous plan, which did not include retail on the first floor. The zoning overlay allows houses of worship to be placed not he second floor as long as a portion of the first floor contains retail.

Chabad of the Shore applied to the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2012 to build a two-story building containing a 200-seat sanctuary, a 200-person capacity multipurpose room with a kitchen on the second floor, and five classrooms, office space and a room for religious services in the area of the old movie theater, West End Deli and Bagel and Lou's Uniforms in West End.

That board's denial of the use variance in 2013, caused Menachem to sue the city later that year. The litigation was dismissed as the city and Menachem worked together to create a new plan that is acceptable for both sides.

While the initial design presented to the zoning board was met with heavy criticism by locals, Wednesday night's hearing was attended mostly by supporters of the project. Only one person, a doctor who has a practice just to the west of the site, spoke at the meeting and asked about the shared parking situation.

Chabad Of The Shore was on the verge of purchasing the old West End School, but the group's appraisal of the property was lower than the $3.3 million it had agreed to purchase the school for in January, so the sale was terminated and the school was eventually bought by the New Jersey Repertory Company.

They had been given consent by the BOE to use the West End School for "after-school religious education as well as pre-school religious education," according to the resolution passed by the board. The board had also given Menachem the authority to "evolve into a full-time religious school, kindergarten through eighth grade."

A timeline for the construction of the project was not given at the meeting.

Read more from: Long Branch

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