The Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment continued to hear testimony for Chabad of Shore's application to build a synagogue and other space in West End on Monday night.
The application was heard for the first time since September, but no decision was made by the board, as there are still questions from the public, the attorney who is representing the West End business owners and the board.
The final testimony is expected to be made at the next zoning board meeting on Jan. 28, and it is possible the board could vote on the application, which was first heard on June 11.
Chabad wishes to build a two-story building that contains a 200-seat sanctuary, a 200-person capacity multipurpose room with a kitchen on the second floor, and five classrooms, office space and a room for religious services on the second floor. A large, 51-space parking lot in the rear of the property also is included in the plan.
The plan would include the demolition of an old movie theater on Ocean Avenue and two stores north of the structure; Mike's West End Deli, which is now vacant, and Lou's Uniforms. There are also two vacant apartments above the stores.
A synagogue is not a permitted use in the commercial zone, so Chabad of the Shore is looking to obtain a use variance to use the site and also obtain some minor bulk variances for parking and setbacks.
Chabad of the Shore's planner Richard Preiss testified on Monday night and went over the positive and negative criteria for the application.
Preiss said that although a synagogue is not a permitted use in the commercial zone, that it would have "no negative impact on the community."
"We're not dislodging a retail mainstay," Preiss said. "It benefits the community to replace the existing building."
"A place of worship is considered to be inherently beneficial," he added.
Board Vice Chair Jeff Ging asked Preiss if replacing buildings that are ratables with a nonprofit organization that will not pay taxes to the city is beneficial to the community.
Preiss said adding a house of worship is beneficial to the community and is an improvement and that losing the ratables is considered "an acceptable trade off."
Preiss also went over several conditions Chabad of the Shore is willing to adhere to if the application is approved by the board.
He said the number of persons allowed at the synagogue, or its multipurpose room, will be capped at 200. He said if an event is held there that requires more attendees, the event will be moved to another venue.
He also said outside groups will be not allowed to rent the facility, but that nonprofit groups would be allowed use if it does not interfere with the Chabad's scheduled events.
Preiss added that the parking lot will feature landscaping along its northern border to buffer it from West End Park and that residents, business owners and visitors who are going to local shops will be allowed to use the parking lot on days when it does not need it for highly-attended events.
Rabbi Leibel Shapiro, of Chabad of the Shore, has said that will include days such as the three Jewish high holy days.
Shapiro has also said that many of the congregants walk and that the parking will often not be at full capacity during regular worship days.
Several West End business owners have said they do not agree with the application because of the possible loss of parking for the area and the fact that the building is not a permitted use in the commercial zone.
Others are worried that if the application is approved, that it could affect what is done with the site where several businesses and homes were destroyed by a large fire in February. The site is currently a grass lot, and there have been no applications by any of the former building owners to rebuild at this time.