FIRST INTERVIEW: Lakewood Spotlight in Depth – a Q & A with Reb Yaakov (Jack) Mueller of Cedarbridge Development

fileReb Yaakov (Jack) Mueller, close Talmid of Rav Shneur Zatzal, Yad Yemin to ybl’c the Roshei Yeshiva Shlita for the past 35 Years, and the longtime Director for the Cedarbridge Project Speaks to The Lakewood Scoop:

If you have driven down Cedarbridge Avenue or New Hampshire Avenue recently, you likely noticed a number of multi-story well designed office buildings under construction on large spacious lots. You surely have seen the exceptional well-designed road network in the Cedarbridge & New Hampshire area, with wide lanes in all directions, timed turning signals and dedicated turning lanes, and more.  You might wonder how those came to be.  You may also have heard of the frum owned hotel, and of new heimeshe shopping stores scheduled for that area. With much going on, the Scoop turned to Reb Yaakov Mueller for a history of the project and the office buildings going up, the type of companies moving in, and a perspective on what is planned for the future and other aspects of the mixed use project.

Reb Yaakov, let’s back up a few years; how and when did the Yeshiva’s Cedarbridge Development get involved in developing this tract of land?

Cedarbridge Development was established by the Yeshiva’s Baalei Batim some 20 years ago in order to create an endowment for the Yeshiva. Some of these Baalei Batim such as Reb Moshe Reichmann were exceptionally close to Rav Schach Zatzal and the Ponovezh Yeshiva, and they were aware of the how the Ponovezher Rav, Harav Kahaneman Zatzal, built housing and retail stores in Bnei Brak, in order to help sustain the Ponovezher Yeshiva.  They consulted with our Roshei Yeshiva, and then on their suggestion with various Gedolei Hador, and on their advice they decided to do the same in Lakewood for Beth Medrash Govoha.

Their purpose was to ensure that the Yeshiva is properly funded, that no payroll would ever be late or missed, and that all Yungeleit should be able to get onto the Kollel. At that time the Yeshiva was in very poor financial straits. For those who were here in those days, they surely remember how the Yeshiva faced great difficulties meeting its obligations to its staff and how late the Yeshiva was, months and even years behind, with the Kollel. Notably, the Yeshiva was one quarter the size it is today, and yet even with its far smaller budget back then, the Yeshiva could not cover its bills. For these Baalei Batim it was not acceptable that a Makom Torah like Rav Aharon’s Yeshiva should be unable to pay its expenses, causing so much t’sar to the Bnei Torah families of the Yeshiva, and diminishing the kavod of Torah so dramatically.

In those years no one envisioned that there would ever be a market for office buildings in Lakewood, it was simply unthinkable in every way. The Yeshiva was fortunate to have Baalei Batim like Reb Moshe Reichmann Zatzal and, ybl’c Reb Avrohom George Klein, who was the great visionary for Cedarbridge. They envisioned that the future of Lakewood would call for higher paying service industry jobs and they began to look for potential sites where an office park could possibly be built.

They knew how important this would be to the kiyum of the Kollel families, as few wives of Yungeleit or alumni were likely to seek jobs as factory workers or warehouse packers, and positions in Klei Kodesh would be limited.  These Baalei Batim were ahead of their time in seeing our Lakewood of today, and we have great hakaras hatov to them for their vision – we are now seeing their amailus and mesiras nefesh come true.

It has been with their help, year after year that the Yeshiva has not been late for even a moment on a payroll for well over 15 years, and it is with their help that the Yeshiva has grown four times as big, adding thousands and thousands of families to the Kollel and expanding the staff of the Roshei Chaburah, Poskim, Nosai V’Nosnim, and more – all while never missing nor being late on a financial obligation.

These devoted Baalei Batim, which include noted builders of Torah such as Reb Avraham Biderman, Reb Gedaliah Weinberger, Reb Yussi Rieder, Reb Hashi Herzka, and Reb Shlomo Feigenbaum, along with Reb Aaron Kotler, envisioned, far before anyone else did, that the Yeshiva’s growth as a Makom Torah would drive Lakewood’s growth and advancement, and that this would bring high quality development to town, including housing, retail stores and office buildings.

They were proven right, as the Yeshiva brought, year after year, thousands of new Bnei Torah and their families to Lakewood. They set a shining model for what a Torah community can look like, even here in the hinterlands of New Jersey.  They brought and built in their wake over 300 Shuls, 150 Yeshivos and elevated standards that are the positive envy of the thinking world.

Along with them grew businesses, jobs, entrepreneurship and economic vitality. These all improve the quality of life for all citizens, and they create well-paying jobs, which have become the prime economic driver for our entire region.  They brought, so importantly, substantial property tax revenue to Lakewood Township and Ocean County, and of course with thousands of new homes and hundreds of schools and what is likely 20,000 new jobs, these Talmidim and alumni have completely revitalized what was once a struggling and declining municipality.

Please share with us the Cedarbridge plan

The Baalei Batim zoomed in for their vision on an available blighted site, which had been designated as a redevelopment zone by the Township in 1986. Well over a dozen years passed from the time the redevelopment designation was made, but the Town was unable to develop it, and could not afford to put in the infrastructure for its potential development. It was on this dormant site that the Baalei Batim contemplated creating an office park as an anchor and core for development. This difficult tract of land had no infrastructure, it had significant development limitations and issues, the best case scenario at the time might have brought factories and low-paying light industrial jobs to Lakewood. An adjacent but similar and much larger tract of land had been previously developed as an industrial and warehouse, with minimum-wage manufacturing and assembly jobs, as the idea of major offices and service companies locating in Lakewood was unimaginable at that time.

While the Cedarbridge plan would contain a variety of uses, it included something else most unique to Lakewood – a major tract of open space. The redevelopment plan designated a large portion of the Cedarbridge site to be preserved in perpetuity as open space, as a benefit to the future residents who would be able to live in this area, ensuring that they would have considerable trees and green space near their homes.

As a result of this foresight, Cedarbridge will have offices, retail, hotel and the Pine River Village housing, plus it will have a natural preserve of over 150 acres of land that will never be built on. The natural open space will be seamlessly connected to the sites slated for development, with walking paths and connectivity that allows the residents of the area to benefit from the open space with light recreation.

Cedarbridge purchased the dormant and blighted property from Lakewood on June 1, 2000. Cedarbridge secured major funding and worked over a dozen years on approvals and construction, planning and constructing major roads, water, sewer, utilities and retention basins.

file1The Cedarbridge team worked constantly with the Township officials, the County Freeholders, and with the State and Federal Representatives to expand the entire network of roads and access in the area, starting from the Garden State Parkway and its new Lakewood interchanges, all the way deep into Lakewood. They formed strong relationships with the Highway Authority, the State of New Jersey, the Federal Government and more, so as to lay the proper groundwork for future growth. While they had to overcome many obstacles along the way, the Rebbono Shel Olam granted their efforts on behalf of the Bnei Torah with hatzlocha.

Please share with us about the housing component of Cedarbridge

One parcel in the Cedarbridge zone had been previously designated for senior housing. The Cedarbridge plan kept to that designation, even though it was deemed to be non-viable and valueless by all the major regional developers of senior housing. Those major developers felt that building a senior community at that site was not viable because their typical senior communities have amenities such as golf, lakes and more and they usually build on sites that are far larger than the parcel that was designated for senior housing.

The Yeshiva’s Baalei Batim foresaw the possibility of a unique-for- the-Lakewood olam senior community here, and they kept that designation.  A few years later, during construction, the builder of the property was forced by the then tough market conditions to split the project into two, with part of it built for regular non-restricted housing and with the Township receiving additional payment for that.

We have great nachas that our Baalei Batim had the foresight to see the need for a frum friendly senior development in town and we see today that they were ahead of their time, as back 20 years ago few imagined that Lakewood would one day have frum retirees who seek to live in the Torah atmosphere of Lakewood. The Pine River Village housing parcels were the first ones to be developed in the overall plan, as the other components required a far greater level of planning. We take much nachas from seeing Pine River Village built out and filled with mishpochos of all ages, and can only imagine the great nachas that Moreinu Rav Shneur Zatzal would have at seeing his own Talmidim now retired and back in his sacred “shtut” steeping themselves in the atmosphere of Torah.

Our Baalei Batim envisioned the senior housing as an integrated component of one master-planned development and we created the roads, water, sewer, retention basins and utilities as one master plan for all the components.

The overall master plan required that we invest many years, dollars and efforts to build it out. We have done so, and have never used a single dollar donated or intended for the Yeshiva’s budget. Instead we used special funds and grants advanced by our Baalei Batim and by financing agencies that were specifically intended for this project, along with proceeds from the project itself.

I note with pride that there are no investors in this project, the Yeshiva’s entity is the sole owner and the Talmidim the sole beneficiaries. The plan is for a mix of uses, consisting of office, retail, hotel, and housing, with various timetables and options on how to build it all out. We kept the housing portion limited to what are now the Pine River Village tracts.

We see several major buildings under construction now. What are those buildings intended for?

They are Class A office buildings being designed and constructed by Yeshiva alumni, as predicted nearly 20 years ago by the Yeshiva’s Baalei Batim. For those who are newer to Lakewood, allow me again a note of perspective: until a few years ago there was zero demand for such office space in Lakewood and the nearest corporate center was well up the Parkway, in Monmouth County. The companies building in Lakewood are our own local much beloved and highly regarded Baalei Batim, all alumni of the Yeshiva, such as Michoel Bauman, the Feigenbaum family, Mordechai Chopp, Mordy Schron, and many others.

They are all Bnei Torah and they are building state of the art buildings, employing many Lakewood residents, al taharas hakodesh, and they are providing Torahdike atmospheres for their workforces, as befits Talmidim of Rav Aharon Zatzal’s Makom Torah. They will be providing ample parking and amenities for their workforce and for the Bnei HaYeshiva, including child care. There will also be a hotel which will accommodate the local needs of the tzibur, which will be the only hotel geared to serve the frum olam of Lakewood.

What is the timeline for additional office buildings?

Our focus is the local office market, for companies that typically employ large numbers from the olam HaTorah. Our office building timeline is dependent on their growth; we have seen much siyata d’shmaya to date, and are mispallel that it continues, expanding the opportunities for our tzibur to work in places that are sensitive to our needs.

This also saves our Baalei Parnassah huge commute time; think of a Baal Parnassah who travels every day to Manhattan, he is spending 4 hours round trip each day, times 4 or 5 days a week. That can easily add up to a thousand hours a year – which is the equivalent of 24 hours a day of commuting – for 40 full days each year. That takes a massive toll on the person, on their learning, davening, on their koach and certainly on their mishpocha.

While so many are moser nefesh to do it, and I am in awe of them, it is so much more logical for a Yeshiva alumnus who goes out to the world of Parnassah to have employment opportunities right here in town. That allows him to keep sedorim, to daven in a normal shul minyan instead of on a bus, to join a Kollel boker and Kollel erev, to have time for his mishpocha and to lead a more normal life. Bringing large accounting, legal, finance, banking, insurance, healthcare, logistics, and tech firms here to Lakewood is a wonderful chesed, and the Baalei Batim who are creating those companies have amazing s’char for it.

Share with us details for the shopping plaza.

plan 1A portion of the project is planned as a shopping plaza, intended to serve this section of town. Unlike what you may have heard, the plaza is not a full scale mall, rather it is a typical plaza similar to those found elsewhere in Lakewood. By way of comparison, our plaza is 14,000 square feet smaller (the equivalent of 5 or 6 shopping strip stores fewer) than Shop Rite plaza on Route 9 and Kennedy, where Judaica Plaza and Gourmet Glatt are located.  Our plaza has been designed with much careful thought, and it will have more available parking than what is typical.


Again by comparison to Shop Rite plaza, it will have more parking than Shop Rite plaza, while the Cedarbridge area plaza is 7% smaller. This is because we wanted to plan the shopping properly, and to ensure that families and shoppers don’t waste time circling for a spot. This also minimizes traffic circling in the area.  There will be no on street parking, and each entrance has been designed to have superb access that does not slow down traffic.

plan 2We have made many other traffic improvements, including the crucial ability to reach the plaza directly from both New Hampshire Avenue and from Cedarbridge Avenue without having to go onto Pine Street. We have put direct access to the plaza from both Avenue of the State and Boulevard of the Americas, which are the Cedarbridge paid for and Cedarbridge built roads, which have enhanced traffic flows for the entire area.

The shopping will provide a local amenity, as there are 455 homes going up in adjacent affordable housing NJ Hand neighborhood, which was created by the Yeshiva, and which is filled with young mishpochos, and there are many Yeshivaleit and families moving into the areas just south of Cedarbridge. There are also a group of developments on the North side of Cedarbridge, and with all this, there will be a real need for a shopping plaza in this section of town, with shops that are of the type owned by Bnei Torah and Yeshiva alumni, and which so importantly meet the Tzibbur’s standards of kedusha.

Do you have tenants lined up at this point, or is it too early for that?

While we have not finalized our specific retail tenants for the plaza, we would like to see a section reserved for chesed stores.  This section would include a wholesale type of store for basic goods for the families of Lakewood, such as is common in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak, but which are not yet common here in the U.S. A number of very special individuals have approached us about running such, including some locally who have decades of experience in running not-for-profit stores.   We have also been speaking to chesed stores similar to Bobby’s place in Brooklyn, which “sells” clothes at no charge for families in such need. (As a side note, all potential tenants, including any not-for-profits, are aware that no stores will be exempted from real estate taxes).

plan 3We also asked the shopping plaza architect to design a store to be used by different chesed vendors before Yomtov, which helps so many families. Along with these we have had calls from local frum clothing stores, a hardware store, a few group of physicians, a large dental practice, an orthodontic practice, a major wholesale moicher Seforim and more. Those who have called us are Bnei Torah who treasure Lakewood and the great Mesorah set for our Kehilla by Moreinu Rav Aharon Zatzal and by Moreinu Rav Shneur Zatzal, and they are aware of how essential it is for us to maintain and strengthen those standards.

What is the timetable for the plaza?

We were hoping to start the first section in 2017 and 2018, and a second section most likely in 6 to 10 years, as the kehilla grows, and as the need for more shopping develops. This is prudent as building stores that are empty would be very costly, and we are wholly determined to only strengthen our special Lakewood Torah atmosphere with the type of stores that we bring in.  While so many years out may sound like a long timetable, remember that we started working actively on the Cedarbridge idea around 1998, more than 19 years ago, which is not unusual in the world of development.

I saw an early version of the plan with an area labeled amphitheater. What was the idea behind that?

At one point we contemplated including a not-for-profit Simcha Hall, which would be especially available to Bnei HaYeshiva with only a minimal charge.  That early draft plan had a related outdoor area setup for chuppos with permanent seating installed, which might also be used for events by mosdos.  It was labeled by the architect, who had no idea what a chuppah was, as an amphitheater.  We regret that this caused confusion.  Regardless, we are not seeking to build the Simcha Hall, as there are numerous other ones going up in town, and since we began planning this component of Cedarbridge the takanah chasunos have become the norm, bringing down the cost of simchos for the olam. Without the Chasune Hall we have no purpose in the chuppah area.

What type of infrastructure did Cedarbridge Development invest in to support this development?

We built or helped build and expand the entire area’s beautiful four and six lane roads that give drivers easy access to the different sections of town through Cedarbridge Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Avenue of the States, and Boulevard of the Americas, and which decrease congestion around its parameters. We also constructed pedestrian walkways, all the elegant street lighting, underground utility wiring (which cost more than aboveground but are more durable and help avoid blackouts), underground fresh water and sewer systems, drainage basins, various traffic signals, and more.

The infrastructure we invested in does not only benefit the people who will be working, staying or shopping in Cedarbridge. We spent extra, especially on the water and sewer systems, and on the pedestrian improvements and the traffic lights, so that they can be used or expanded to the benefit of future residents of the entire area, such as I mentioned when speaking of the walking paths that connect to the preserved open space.

What additional improvements are planned in the area?

We are very appreciative to the Lakewood Township Committee, Ocean County and State officials who are leading the efforts to see the continued improvements and upgrades of the overall Town’s traffic signals and infrastructure. In the Cedarbridge area, these upgrades include important traffic improvements, such as Vine Street from Pine St. to Cedarbridge Ave, which will soon be opened as a full through road. They also include several new traffic signal lights to this area. These full traffic signal lights include one at Pine St. and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and one at Pine St. & Vine Street.

In addition, the County is working cooperatively on adding traffic lights on New Hampshire Ave & Boulevard of the Americas, at Vine St. & Cedarbridge Ave. and at Cedarbridge Ave & Ave of the States., which are all in process, and which are expected to be completed within 12-24 months.

In addition to directly helping the residents of this area, these improvements will help the companies in the corporate park, those in the industrial park, the mosdos in the industrial park, and will help ease the Route 9 congestion, by negating the need for residents who live and will live in this area from having to drive to Route 9 to shop.

For the long term, Cedarbridge’s future is tied to this area, and we have strategic and financial interests in ensuring that the area functions well, that there is little to no traffic congestion, and that the area is attractive. This means that we remain committed to the area and to cooperatively helping see future upgrades as needed.

What are the tax benefits for the Township from the new buildings?

All the buildings that are and will be constructed will be paying real estate taxes. These commercial “ratable” properties are particularly valuable to the Township, since they pay a significant amount in taxes, but add virtually zero in costs to the Township for garbage collection, police work, snow clearing and, of course, they don’t add to school busing or special ed. They are therefore known by Townships as “good ratables,” in that they bring in far more revenue than they cost.

They are also valued at a much higher multiple than industrial buildings, as rents on quality commercial space are significantly higher than rents on industrial and warehouse space. The commercial buildings are worth far more than industrial or warehouse space, and since taxes are driven by value this is a benefit for the Township.

Of further note is that these particular properties are even more valuable to the Township due to the fact that some of the individual companies that are building their offices at Cedarbridge have negotiated their own “PILOT” (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements with the Township, These are similar to what Jersey City, New Brunswick, and so many other New Jersey municipalities typically do with companies that build such space in their towns. They do this because the Townships come out ahead with the PILOT.

The reasoning is as follows: Under the PILOT the company gets a discount for a number of years on the taxes for the building improvements, while paying the full rate on the land. The discounted building tax plus the land tax go to the Township, and the Township gets an exemption from having to then give away the usual 75% of the real estate tax to the County and the other taxing agencies.  By not having to share the taxes the Township receives more money than it would have received without the PILOT.

Under PILOT rules the discount declines over time, adding continually to the Township’s coffers and ultimately to the County and other taxing agencies coffers as the Pilot expires.

In closing: Please share with us why you were chosen by the Yeshiva to direct Cedarbridge, and tell us of your own thoughts and vision.

I grew up in the Yeshiva and consider Rav Shneur to have been not only my Rebbe but like my own father. I must add that the Rebbetzin Aleha Hashalom was like a mother to me and my wife and we were zocheh to have lived on the same block as Rav Shneur and the Rebbetzin for nearly 50 years. I consider it a great zechus to be able to spend my days helping the Yungeleit and their mishpochos and to have had a small role in strengthening the Yeshiva and the vision of Rav Aharon and Rav Shneur.


Reb Yaakov Mueller came to Beth Medrash Govoha from Toledo Ohio in April 1963, 5 months after the petira of Rav Aharon Zatzal to learn by Moreinu Rav Shneur Zatzal. After4 years in Yeshiva, he was asked by Rav Shneur to help run Beth Medrash Govoha, which he did for 4 years.   In 1971 with the encouragement of Reb Shneur Zatzal he decided to open a yeshiva in Howell, called the Adelphia Yeshiva. This was the first of the many “parkway exit Yeshivos” and it preceded the hundreds of mosdos that have come in its wake.

Reb Yaakov asked Rabbi Yeruchem Shain, and Rav Chaim Leib Epstein Zatzal to be his partners in the new Yeshiva, with Rav Chaim Leib as the Rosh Yeshiva. While the opening of that Yeshiva faced strident and vocal opposition from the local residents, including the spreading of many false rumors about the project, the Yeshiva was matzliach and the Adelphia Yeshiva flourishes to this day. 

Experienced in development, R’ Moshe Reichmann Zatzal hired Reb Yaakov to develop a N.J. portfolio for the Reichmann family. Reb Moshe Reichmann combined the highest possible attributes of a Baal Tzedakah, erhliche businessman and Nediv hador, making a huge Kiddush Hashem every time he spoke and with every action that he took. Reb Moshe was a formative influence on Reb Yaakov.

When the Yeshiva’s Baalei Batim launched Cedarbridge, they asked Reb Yaakov to lead the project, and they are continually grateful that he accepted the challenge. Reb Yaakov has served as a yad yemin to the Roshei Yeshiva, Harav Aryeh Malkiel Shlita, Harav Yeruchem Shlita, Harav Dovid Shlita, and Harav Yisroel Shlita, since then.

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  1. Wow! Thank you to those visionary balai batim! A huge thank you to R’ Mueller on the work he is doing in behalf of the klal. May be continue to have kochos and Hatzlacha for many more years to come. It is a beautiful thing to see bnei torah in business!

  2. This is interesting. It’s too bad that Mr Mueller hasn’t spoken up before & corrected the apparent misinformation that’s out there. I bet the people against this won’t respond to the substance, but will just say it’s all lies, without any evidence. Mr Mueller has gone on the record, will his opponents do the same?

  3. I gota say that even though I never understood those that were (are) against the project I wish this info would have been out there from the beginning.

  4. One concern of many is that the stores in the plaza, will NOT be local stores (as the article states) but rather stores from Brooklyn which creates a large strain on the already struggling stores of this town.

    Not all stores are struggling, but many people will shop at a spanking new store then one that is 20 years old.

  5. Thank you R’ Yankel for clarifying all this. There has been so much misinformation (& straight out loshon hara and sheker against the Yeshiva and others) and though I doubt the anti-establishment people will change their view, it is important to set the record straight. I live in the area and while I had no issue with the project per se, I was concerned about the traffic impact but now that I see there are improvements underway, I am happy to see this succeed. I’d much rather see this than thousands of apartments…… Thank you for everything you do for the Klal

  6. Just as elal doesn’t give a hoot if you sit in the airport from today till tomorrow so to the Lakewood Township does not give a hoot if you sit in traffic from today till tomorrow

  7. Thank you Rabbi Mueller for coming forth and letting the olam know the truth we are so proud to be part of the Lakewood community and feel privileged to part of the yeshiva. We also feel a tremendous amount of hakoras hatov to the board, Rabbi A Kotler, Rabbi Moshe Gliberman , and all the askanim such as yourself who work tirelessly on behalf of the tzebur.
    Let us work together to ” Make Lakewood Great again” by getting rid of all the bashing and the people that all they want is Machlokos.
    Yasher Koach

  8. Wow! You are pretty brave for publishing this interview. I can only imagine the comments this article will generate. I didn’t read the article yet. But the comments seem to good to be true. But they are all during the work day. Let’s see what the working guys comment now that the work day is ending. I sure hope you will be objective & allow people to comment against the development as well. Thank you

  9. The plans I was able to view show a full basement for the entire center. This is quite unusual when it comes to commercial shopping centers. What is it’s planned use?

  10. Thank you! But why is everything for the poor bonei yeshiva/yungerliet what about the poor bales batik that neb achim had to leave yeshiva and are just as much in need as many yungerliet!!?? Could someone answer this question for once?! Why are we 2nd rate because we needed to leave yeshiva to try to pay our bills?! Why can’t I get a kollel check from night kollel I joined because I work by day?! Why am I considered a 2nd class in this town just trying to do my part. I stayed in kollel for 4 years without support and then when I had to leave I was given the sour faces and pushed off the cliff!

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