BELMAR, NJ — Plans to build three single-family homes on the Seventh Avenue property currently occupied by the vacant First United Methodist Church complex have been approved by the Belmar Planning Board.

What will remain is the church’s former rectory located around the corner on D Street, which will continue to be the residence of Bishop John Shol of the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey, who came before the board during its July 20 remote hearing.

He was joined by attorney William Shipers, who is the sole member of NMB 501 7th Redevco of Belmar, which is under contract with Neptune City-based United Methodists to buy the property.

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Although a proposed purchase price for the 22,500-square-foot property has not been disclosed, it is assessed at $2.1 million, according to the Monmouth County Tax Board.

In addressing the board, Bishop Shol said the church considered a variety of proposals, including those for developing the property as townhomes and condominiums, before deciding on the NMB plan “as the best use for this community” — in terms of bringing “value and beauty” to the neighborhood.

In the board’s 7-2 vote to approve the subdivision proposal, its majority reasoned that the plan fits the character of the surrounding residential neighborhood — primarily when looking at the single-family homes that sit across the street on Seventh Avenue.

“We’re not making mansions,” said project engineer Richard DiFolco of JKR Engineering, Freehold. “(The proposed homes) are similar to the bishop’s home and the surrounding homes. It is not disruptive to the neighborhood.”

Under the plan, each 2½-story home, ranging in size from 3,000 to 3,500 square feet, will sit on a 50-by-100-foot lot. As a way to eliminate multiple driveways on Seventh Avenue and improve the streetscape, a one-car garage will be situated at the rear of each home. A travel lane behind all three homes will provide common access to D Street, as well as off-street parking for about 11 vehicles.

The proposal also calls for replacing the existing one-car garage at Bishop Shol’s home with a two-car garage that will be connected to an enclosure with a 14-by-16-foot pool.

Highlights of the impact reports by DiFolco also include:

  • A reduction of impervious coverage on the site from 74 percent to 60 percent, covering 16,703 square feet — or 3,222 square feet less. This will result in a decrease in stormwater runoff.
  • An onsite storm drain system that will reduce the downstream water flow, as well as the potential for soil erosion.
  • Proper elevations of the homes, since the site sits in a flood zone.

Several members of the public and board members voiced concern over the density of the project, preferring instead to see two homes on the Seventh Avenue site, which they claimed would keep the project consistent with current zoning in the borough’s master plan.

After the nearly four-hour hearing, Shipers agreed to cap building coverage on the site at 30 percent, extend rear-yard setbacks by two feet to 40 feet and to double the side-yard setback from the adjacent property at 507 Seventh Avenue to 10 feet.

Site plan approval for the new homes, which will be custom-built by North End Builders of Belmar, will still be needed for the project to proceed. The board also asked that landscape plans be submitted as part of those applications.

Voting in favor of the plan were board chairman Jay McDermott, vice chairman Rick Meyer, Borough Councilman Thomas Carvelli, Public Works Director Michael Campbell, Tom Burke, Nick Valente and William Lindsey. Dissenting votes were cast by Ted Protonentis and Robert Forte.

According to Bishop Shol, the Methodist church has had a “wonderful relationship” with the borough since the 1800s, when its first church in the borough was established on Main Street. The current 11,200-square-foot building was built in 1945, according to Monmouth County tax records.

Bishop Shol said that he and his wife, Beverly, moved to Belmar shortly after Superstorm Sandy, when the entire church property suffered extensive damage, forcing the closure of the church and the need to rebuild the rectory.

In fact, the church and school building never reopened, as many of its members joined other nearby parishes. The structure did have a short-lived stint as Belmar’s community/senior center from 2017 to 2019, when the decision was made to put the property up for sale and the borough’s lease ended.

“We’ve grown to love the community and the people in the community,” Bishop Shol said. “This is not only the place I want to finish my ministry, but to be a resident when I retire.”

Proceeds from the sale of the remainder of the property will be dedicated to helping people during the current coronavirus pandemic by bolstering its food distribution efforts across the state and getting people back to work, he added.

In fact, the church continues to operate its food pantry — a staple at its Seventh Avenue building for many years — now at the United Methodist Church at 1000 17th Avenue in the West Belmar section of Wall.

READ MORE: Belmar Food Pantry Volunteers Fill Up Grocery Bags for Those in Need

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