Testimony describes crowded house, 'basement cafeteria'
BY DAN NEWMAN • NJ Examiner
Attorneys for Yeshiva Me'on Hatorah and the borough of Roosevelt went back and forth at a July 14 Planning Board meeting at a packed Borough Hall, as the congregation filed its appeal of an earlier decision, which stated that the school could not conduct business in its Homestead Lane synagogue and that the residence is not in accordance with zoning regulations.
"The residence at 28 Homestead Lane has rooms that are numbered on the outside of each door. It's almost like a dormitory, hospital or hotel. This is something that I have never heard of in a single-family home," said Roger McLaughlin, an attorney for the borough.
The first person asked by McLaughlin to testify during the meeting was Ralph Kirkland, a zoning officer in the borough, who stated that on three separate occasions within a five-week span, he was refused entry into the residence.
"The first time, I was told that the rabbi wasn't feeling well," Kirkland said. "The next time I was told that the rabbi would see me and then he never did. About a week later I went down there again and I noticed kids going in and out repeatedly."
While he never made it inside, he did state that he had received many complaints from neighbors, stating much of what he saw on the day of his third visit.
John Marini, a borough housing officer, said that in a 40-minute span on Feb. 12 of this year, he saw 31 males exiting the house at different times.
"I did see many people leaving the home, but I was never inside the home at any point," Marini stated.
Borough officials weren't the only ones who wanted to see what was going on at the residence in question. Larry Hartz, 18, says he has lived in Roosevelt for about 15 years and was a friend of the family that previously resided at 28 Homestead Lane. He stated that the basement used to be "very roomy" and that the home felt very spacious.
"About five or six weeks ago I went there to check the place out again," Hartz said. "Growing up, I spent a lot of time there and I really just wanted to take a trip down memory lane. " What he reported seeing was nothing like he had recalled from many years ago as a youngster.
"What they did to the house was totally different. There were drastic changes in the architecture of the house. The living room and dining room was split by Sheetrock walls," Hartz explained. "Now the house has seven or eight bedrooms and the basement was turned into a cafeteria. There were probably about 25 or 30 kids around and it's obvious that they are living in that home."
Also testifying as part of what seems will be a lengthy process was James Mudd from the state Department of Community Affairs' Division of Fire Safety. Mudd said that in some rooms of the home, there were more than two beds in some of the rooms [he also said there were a total of 18 beds within the home], and that there were another nine in storage.
"Some of the beds were bunk beds and there were 30-plus kids eating breakfast at the time. At the time of inspection, I deemed the home to be a dormitory," Mudd reported. "Wherever they could fit a bed, that's where they put it."
The next scheduled hearing on the matter is 7:30 p.m. July 28 at a site to be determined due to last week's larger than expected crowd.