Brick Township officials are seeking additional information from the owner of the former Temple Beth Or property on Van Zile Road after correspondence over the past two months indicates a desire to open a “library and learning center” in the longtime house of worship.
Congregation Kehilos Yisroel, an ultra-Orthodox organization led by Lakewood developer David Gluck, purchased the building at 200 Van Zile Road from the mainstream Conservative Jewish congregation Temple Beth Or in 2021. Last week, in a matter unrelated to the Van Zile site, the remaining members of Temple Beth Or received zoning board approval to move into a new home on Salmon Street.
After taking possession of the Van Zile property, Gluck’s organization quickly opened a boys’ high school in the building which was not permitted and was ultimately shuttered by the township pending zoning board approval. The zoning board case has been stalled for well over a year with no activity and, according to officials, cannot move forward since no money remains in an escrow account.
The latest proposal by Gluck, now represented by Lacey Township attorney Jerry Dasti, was first floated in a Nov. 22, 2022 letter to Brick Township zoning officer Christopher Romano. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Shorebeat through a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act, Dasti requested a zoning permit “to allow the property to be used, in part, as a library/learning center.”
“We are not seeking zoning permit approval to utilize the property for a school,” the letter continued. “In fact, the application for a school both before the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, are in the process of being dismissed without prejudice.”
The letter went on to state that the building’s 125 parking spaces are “more than enough for the usage.”
“We believe and assert that this is an allowable use in accordance with the township’s zoning ordinances, and clearly an appurtenance to the synagogue which will not adversely impact upon the surrounding neighborhood or the zone plan,” Dasti wrote.
The letter prompted questions from township officials, most significantly due to the fact that the township’s zoning code makes no mention of private libraries and does not carve out a definition for a “learning center.” Romano, in a responsive letter, said he reviewed with matter with Ronald Cucchiaro, the zoning board attorney, as well as the municipal planner, and “agree more information should be provided.”
Public libraries are expressly permitted in residential zones in Brick Township, however there is a question whether a legal distinction must be made when a library will, presumably, be privately owned and operated. Dasti, in a followup letter, asserted that “private/religious libraries should be treated the same way” as public libraries.
In the township’s response, Romano sought a citation in the township code allowing private libraries to operate in residential zones, and asked whether the library would be open to the public. He also asked Dasti to describe the daily activities which would take place in the facility and how the site will function. Additionally, the township asked for more details on the “learning center” portion of the request – and whether there will be scheduled study and hours of operation.
“The general definition of an establishment open to the public is ‘open to all,'” Romano’s letter said. “The land use code does not have a definition for ‘public,’ however in every instance it is used, it certainly means open to all. As we can agree, the use of the word ‘private’ excludes the general public.”
The last correspondence provided responsive to Shorebeat’s request for documents occurred Dec. 23, representing Romano’s response. There have been no filings with the zoning board since, nor has a zoning permit been issued.
The desire to use the former temple as a high school would have required the zoning board to vote in favor of allowing the school to operate as a conditional use in the residential zone. That request, which was the subject of one hearing in front of the board before the case stalled, was opposed by neighbors who held that the school would be inappropriately placed and produce excessive traffic. There were also allegations of “blockbusting” on the part of real estate agents connected with Lakewood’s Orthodox community, who aggressively attempted to purchase homes nearby.
Gluck, himself, purchased two homes in the surrounding neighborhood, one of which was shut down by Brick Township following allegations that it was being used as an illegal dormitory. The complaint issued to Gluck by Brick’s code enforcement office remains pending and, last week, Municipal Court Judge Joseph Grisanti said during a hearing that the case was adjourned until May. Gluck has since sold both of the homes.