Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lakewood officials look to resolve controversy over neighborhood school 

A house at 1536 Massachusetts Ave. — once a four-bedroom home of a local veterinarian and now an Orthodox Jewish school — is at the center of a controversy.

Purchased in 2002 for $850,000 by Somerset Development Corp., the company received zoning approval in 2008 to include a school on the property. Since then, the house and its barn became an Orthodox school with multiple trailers and an inground pool. Now, the company wants township approval to build a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium on the site.

But some senior citizens living in two nearby gated communities strongly oppose the expansion.

Residents' complaints have included noisy activities at night at the school. The original house was built in 1964 on 6 acres that sits on a peninsula of land abutting the two senior communities of about 3,000 homes.

"We already receive a poor return on our tax dollars," said Bill Hobday, who lives in the Fairways, one of the two senior communities.

Hobday said nearby residents want Lakewood officials to consider an ordinance prohibiting schools next to senior communities. Some seniors also said they want the school to move off Massachusetts Avenue, where heavy traffic on the county road has already claimed the life of one man who was killed near the school last year.

"On Wednesday nights, they line the street with cars," Hobday said. "I don't know what kind of activities they hold, but about 9 p.m. the traffic is horrendous. They make U-turns and it is an accident waiting to happen."

The township posted signs prohibiting those turns.

"They still do it," Hobday said.

Township officials said they are trying to reach a deal by offering a land swap with the school's owner to appease the school's students and the nearby senior citizens.

In an Aug. 20 letter sent from the township to the Fairways Homeowners Association, Michael Muscillo, township manager, said the Township Committee is aware of the senior community's concerns and is working to resolve the matter.

The township "will work to facilitate this property exchange request in a timely manner in order to bring about the best possible use of the land," Muscillo wrote.
However, a land swap would require the property owner of the Mikor Hatorah school to withdraw its application to the township's Planning Board for the gymnasium, he said.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

Something has to be done, said Richard McGowan, who regularly visits family in the Fairways.

"It is unsightly in a residential area," McGowan said. "It is out of sorts. You go from what is set up here with proper roads and fences and then you have a basic eyesore of a house with trailers and a barn."


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