Plan For Medical Building Off Lakehurst Rd. Fails

Residential lots on the east side of Oliver Street off Lakehurst Rd. were slated to become a parking lot and medical office building, but the zoning board denied the plan. (Photo by Catherine Galioto)

TOMS RIVER – A two-story medical building that was going to be built on residential lots was denied by the Zoning Board of Adjustment because the board said it did not belong in a residential neighborhood.

HealthSouth Rehabilitation, which is an adjacent property owner, made the application. However, the building would have been owned and operated by Fried Group LP, owner of Community Surgical Supply. The two companies had an arrangement where Fried Group would own the building and HealthSouth would get parking.

The property is located on several residential lots on Oliver Street that Fried Group had purchased. They are listed as Block 535.07, Lots 3-9 and 32 and 34. They encompass 3.41 acres in the R-90 residential zone. The hearing had begun December 8, and was denied in February.

The building would have been an 80 x 75-square-foot two-story medical office building and a parking lot for the existing HealthSouth Rehabilitation facility. These projects would have been built across the street from single family homes.

Medical property exists on Lakehurst Road. In fact, there are medical offices at the intersection of Oliver Street and Lakehurst Road. However, the zoning board’s denial stated that the use did not fit with the neighborhood.

“The township’s Master Plan specifically encourages the use of lands in proximity to (Community Medical Center) to be dedicated for such uses. However, the Master Plan further provides that such businesses should not interfere with established residential neighborhoods such as the one existing to the immediate west,” stated a resolution denying the application.

The denial noted that a 2014 approval for the HealthSouth building’s expansion did not seek additional parking due to the use of 70 “leased spaces” at an adjacent property.

Part of the applicant’s argument was that there is a need for a facility like this, with the county’s aging population. The board declared that there are numerous other areas within the municipality for such a building that don’t impact a neighborhood.

Additionally, the board suspected that letting an office building be built there would block HealthSouth if they ever sought to expand the existing facility.

Jerry Fried, partner in the Fried Group, said that with the project being denied, it will likely be reverted back to being residential homes.

HealthSouth was doing the legwork on the application for the Fried Group, he said, and that’s why their name was on the application.

“It’s a shame for the employees” of HealthSouth who would not get the additional parking needed, he said.

“We have 187 doctors,” HealthSouth CEO Patty Ostaszewski said. That requires a lot of parking. The facility has been leasing parking spaces from another property at the corner of Route 37 and Hospital Drive for their employees so that patients and their visitors can park closer to the building.

HealthSouth was not interested in opening a new medical arts building on Oliver Street, she said. The company was just hoping to obtain closer parking for its employees.

“Everything is up in the air” right now, she said. HealthSouth might still try another option to get additional parking.

Michael York, attorney for the applicant, said that since the case has been denied, he does not think that there will be an appeal made. He confirmed that the medical building would have been owned and operated by Fried Group LP.

The applicant needed to come before the zoning board because they were seeking to use the property in a way that it was not zoned. The property is zoned R-90, for residences. The applicant wanted to build a two-story medical office building and parking lot on the property. Neither of those things are allowed currently.

Toms River Town Hall (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

Nels Luthman, zoning board chairman, reiterated comments that were in the resolution of denial.

Although there are doctors’ offices very close, a medical office in a residential zone would be encroaching on a residential area, he said.

“There are plenty of sites where they can build a medical center in this town,” he said.

While there is a demonstrated need for medical facilities in town, there was not a demonstrated need for parking, he said.

“Two years ago, they came before the board for a variance. It was an expansion. At the time, they stated they had adequate parking. Now, all of a sudden they don’t have adequate parking,” he said.

The further expansion of medical buildings into neighboring residential areas is an ongoing issue, residents there said at previous board meetings. Homeowners from those neighborhoods have said the Lakehurst Road corridor is quickly changing from residential and village-office zoning into medical use through granting variances.

Previously, residents in that neighborhood attended the zoning board meetings in opposition of the application, saying it would uproot their quality of life on a quiet, residential street.