Colts Neck Church’s claim rejected by planners, faces new hurdle

COLTS NECK – The planning council on Tuesday rejected a request to build the Colts Neck Community Church after nearly two years of opposition from neighboring residents, telling church leaders that if they want to build they must first get approval from the zoning board.

On December 15, a state Superior Court judge ruled that the zoning board, not the planning board, should consider the application.

“The Superior Court determined that the order for this conditional use was not clear enough and set it aside,” Planning Council attorney Michael Steib said at Tuesday’s meeting. “(He) determined that the Planning Council did not have jurisdiction to hear this because, under the previous ordinance, the church would in fact need a use waiver, which falls under exclusive jurisdiction. of the Zoning Adjustment Council. ”

Colts Neck Community Church proposed to build a 22,557 square foot church at 249 Route 537. It would contain a sanctuary, five Sunday school classrooms, a kitchen and a gathering space.

Architectural renderings of the proposed Colts Neck Community Church

Three neighbors from the Camelot and Yearling Path neighborhoods who opposed the church as planned retained Robert Shea, an attorney for RC Shea and Associates, in July 2020 to represent their interests.

Salvatore Alfieri, lawyer for the church, and representatives of the Colts Neck Community Church could not be reached for comment.

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“The church is approximately 22,000 square feet, right next to the multi-million dollar homes of my clients,” said Shea. “We didn’t think the parking lot (of the proposed church) should be so close to the backyards of these houses. We have therefore filed an appeal on this issue. “

The argument at the heart of the debate was based on two municipal ordinances. The first identifies what is allowed to be built in an area A-1, where the proposed church is located. Zones A-1 allow farms and houses.

“Places of worship… are only permitted as conditional use after application, review and approval by the approving authority,” the ordinance reads and refers to a second ordinance.

The second ordinance reads in part: “In considering the request for conditional use, the approving authority … must take due account of all reasonable elements which could affect public health, welfare, safety, comfort and convenience, such as, but not limited to, the effect on adjacent properties. … Before making a decision, the approval authority must be satisfied that the conditional use is reasonable and necessary for the use and convenience of the public at the proposed location.

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The decision says the planning board, the church and neighboring residents all agree that the first ordinance “does not present specific criteria for a planning board to determine whether a proposal is considered conditional use.” Further, “both parties agree, and the ordinance makes it clear, that the church, as a place of worship, is not a permitted primary use in the area. The church could only be used as a place of worship. conditional use in zone A-1. “

Shea and its clients argued that the criteria for conditional use are found in the Second Order.

“Conditional licensed use… is use that is conditioned by a whole variety of different elements that must be satisfied,” said Shea. “If you are authorized under certain conditions, the order must be drawn up as clearly as possible with regard to those conditions. … If you do not meet these criteria, you are not an authorized use and you must appear before the Adjustment (Zoning) Council for a use deviation.

According to the decision, the Planning Council and the church disagreed with the use of the second ordinance, which they said falls under “administrative sections of ordinances and is not intended to identify the criteria for conditional use ”.

The decision concluded that “the application must be reviewed and approved by the zoning board” and that the second ordinance is too vague for the planning board to decide on a conditional use application.

If the Colts Neck Community Church decides to continue with its plan for the church, it will need to apply to the Zoning Board.

Olivia Liu is a reporter covering Transportation, Red Bank and Western Monmouth County. She can be reached at [email protected]