Jackson Planning Board Raises Questions Over Basement of Commercial Building


JACKSON-A property owned by Rabbi Aaron Kotler faced intense scrutiny by the Jackson Township planning board over a planned basement and no explainations.   Kotler is the CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, one of the world’s most prominent Orthodox Jewish yeshivas.

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The proposed two story retail and office building would lie just 200 feet from the intersection of South Hope Chapel Road and Whitesville Road in Jackson.  The building would include 5 retail spaces on the first floor and 3 offices on the second floor.

The 13,000 square foot building would also include an 8,500 square foot basement and that’s where the Jackson Planning Board raised some red flags.

Planning board chairman Joe Riccardi questioned the applicant on whether or not the basement would be divided into storage units or as an open basement plan.

Board members questions Kotler’s 8,500 square foot open basement, perhaps worried that it could be used as a house of worship.

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“The architect didn’t get that far yet,” explained the applicant.  “The intent is storage for the offices.”

“An insurance business would now be paperless and 8,[5]00 SF seems like a lot of cost for 3 offices. Why are you allocating that type of space,” Riccardi asked.

“[I]  suggest a stipulation that the basement space could only be for storage,” Planning Board member Ken Bressi added. “[I] want answers on what types of products would be stored there; it seems very questionable.”

Board member Marty Flemming was concerned about the basement having no outside access and only one stairwell for access.

According to the meeting minutes of the township Planning board, Mr. Flemming had concerns with no outside access and only 1 way in/out and Mr. Macfarlane advised it would meet building codes. Mr. Bressi also had concerns fighting a fire in the stairway access. Mr. Riker had difficulty with it being ⅓ for storage and 50% of the use is office. Office documentation storage is not direction of the world and 1 way in/out is deadly. The occupation not storage and it’s an in/out business operation.

McGuckin informed there’s 2 stairways to the basement and Mr. Flemming advised there’s no doors on the left side.

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Mr. Kern stated there’s no door from the retail space on the first floor. Mr. Macfarlane pointed out Sheet of 1 of 2 has single doors to the retails space, a single door to the retail to the back, double doors to the lobby and 1 door to the basement/stairs (access to that stairwell). There’s a second means of egress to the basement. Mr. Peters noted the plans don’t have an architectural name or seal on it. They’re not architectural plans just unsigned, unsealed and unnamed plans.

Mr. Kern questioned the finished floor height and how high the basement comes out of ground at grade level.

Mr. Macfarlane advised it’s not indicated on the plan. Mr. Kern confirmed ventilation through the roof or side of the building. Mr. McGuckin explained the Board has to the right to consider the basement. The concern to use the basement 5 years from now for another use. There’s a lot of questions regarding the basement as there’s no architectural plans. They want their questions answered. Mr. Bressi felt the basement is large and has no idea what’s going on down there. Used by the offices and not by retail; it seems strange. Mr. Pfeffer will get feedback and come back.

No final decisions were made regarding the application.  The hearing on the matter will convene again at the August 8th planning board meeting.

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