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Fate Of Long Branch's Church Street School To Be Decided Jan. 8

LONG BRANCH: The developer looking to transform a historic structure in the city into housing is headed back to the zoning board next month.

Jemal's Church Street School, LLC filed suit against the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment for voting down a plan to turn the historic Church Street School into 14 multifamily apartments. The group claimed that the denial was too restrictive and does not allow the property to be redeveloped, therefore they are asking the court to grant site plan approval and a use variance for the project.

The court has decided to send the developer back before the board with a revised project which has been reduced to a total of 12 multi-family residential units, with on-site parking and "associated site improvements," according to a public notice.

The board was scheduled to hear the application on Nov. 13, however, the developer's attorney Stephen Tripp, stated that he did not feel comfortable with the limited number of zoning board members present and wanted to wait for more to be on hand. Therefore, the hearing was postponed to the Jan. 8 board meeting at 7 p.m.

Only four of the seven board members present on Aug. 8, 2016 voted to approve the project. Five votes were needed to OK the project and give the developer the use variance they sought. Multifamily units are not allowed in the R-3 zone where the Church Street School is located. The developer will also need variances for height, bulk, side yard set back and parking.

Church Street residents have fought against the project and worried that it would ruin the character of their neighborhood and add additional traffic.

Jemal's Church Street School, LLC, closed on the property in 2015 after successfully acquiring it via auction from the Long Branch School District in 2014.

The 16,634 square-foot building, on a 1.45-acre lot, was previously the home of Long Branch Primary School No. 3, but has been vacant for some time.

The family behind Jemals is associated with a 9-million-square-foot portfolio, much of which is the renovation of historic properties in the Washington, D.C. area such as the Wonder Bread Factory, Woodies Building and the Coliseum. Douglas Jemal, currently has two historic buildings from the former Takanassee Beach Club site at his home at 900 Ocean Ave., Long Branch. He is restoring the Captain's House from the 1870s and the 1903 Port Huron House.

The school, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1891 so the developer is bound by not just local zoning laws but several layers of bureaucracy for projects at historic sites such as this.


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