A private school is seeking approval to operate from a church facility in a residential neighborhood in Brick Township, leading to growing concerns from residents expressing their concerns over the proposal via social media.
The school would be located on the property of the Fellowship Chapel of the Jersey Shore, located at 170 Duchess Lane. According to county land records, the building is located in the R-10 zone, which calls for single-family residential uses on properties of at least 10,000 square feet in area. The Fellowship Chapel building spans 4 acres and was last sold in 2012 for $1.25 million. It is listed as a “church/parsonage” as its current allowed use.
The building was previously occupied by the Old Guard of Point Pleasant civic group. A German-American club is located next door.
Residents received notices via certified mail late last week and the announcement was published in a print newspaper, as required by law, over the weekend. Fellowship Chapel, a non-denominational Christian church, is seeking approval from the township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to “permit a school in addition to the previously approved use for a House of Worship, granted in 2011.”
Schools are considered a “conditional use” in residential areas, meaning that while they are not normally permitted in the zone, they may be sited there if certain conditions are met. In this case, the Fellowship Chapel property does not meet those conditions, therefore requiring a use variance. Also known colloquially as a “D” variance, approval requires a supermajority of board members voting in favor of proposal in order for it to be successful.
The most recent case of a school attempting to open in a religious space occurred at the former Temple Beth Or site on Van Zile Road, where a Lakewood developer attempted to open a religious boys’ high school. After contentious board meetings and a public outcry, the developer who purchased the site quietly allowed the application to whither for more than a year before the building was sold. The board was never able to vote on the application.
“The Applicant is not making any site plan changes at this time,” the public notice said, meaning no new construction is planned, though the upcoming hearing centers only around the use variance itself – not any development projects, which theoretically could be proposed at a later date.
The church property fronts a residential neighborhood, with a row of neatly-spaced homes looking out over the facility. Two residential streets, Duchess Lane and Daybreak Court, completely surround the church property in a semi-circle, with residents homes enveloping it on all sides. An entrance and exit to the facility is located near the intersection of Duchess Lane and Sullivan Road. An open field is located next to the site’s primary building.
The public notice gave no details on how large the school would be, how many students it would serve, their age groups nor the exact conditions that is forcing the property to obtain use variance approval. Schools were permitted in residents neighborhoods in Brick until 2014, when an ordinance was modified to make them a conditional use.
The conditions under the ordinance requires a school be located on a lot at least two acres in area with at least 200 feet of lot frontage. The ordinance also prohibits the principal building of any such school to be constructed within 40 feet of a public street or neighboring property. Additionally, schools would not be able to cover more than 30 percent of any lot, even if the other criteria were able to be met.
Schools, the ordinance states, also need ample space for a parking lot and the main access point of any school is prohibited from being located on a “lower order street” – which covers virtually all of the township’s residential roadways.
The surprise announcement set off a flurry of chatter on social media websites all weekend, with the vast majority of commenters objecting to a school being located in the middle of their residential neighborhood. Some discussed the possibility of retaining an attorney to collectively object to the application in a formal manner.
The application is scheduled to be heard at the zoning board’s Feb. 21 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the municipal complex on Chambers Bridge Road.