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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    Everything you need to know heading into the Group semifinals.


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    See the latest girls basketball Top 20.


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    Andreas Erazo said he heard a loud bang and thought it was an intruder. It turned out, he claims, to be Abbiegail "Abbie" Smith - the girl he's charged with killing. Watch video

    The man accused of raping and killing an 11-year-old Keansburg girl last summer described in detail to detectives in an interview how he killed her with a kitchen knife because he thought she was an intruder in his apartment. 

    The grisly details of Abbiegail "Abbie" Smith's July death and the cleanup effort afterward, explained by Andreas Erazo in a taped interview with detectives, have been mentioned in court by prosecutors in previous hearings.

    But for the first time, the interview with Erazo, who is charged with murder and sexual assault, by Detectives Wayne Raynor and Joseph Jankowski was played in a Monmouth County courtroom Thursday before Judge David Bauman.

    Bauman will decide whether the tape can be played at Erazo's trial. No decision was made Thursday and the parties will be back in court on March 28. 

    During the interview, Erazo explains how he was cutting hotdogs in his kitchen when he left the kitchen with knife in hand to get his cellphone. He claims he turned the lights off because, "I can move around in the dark and I'm the person who likes to save electricity."

    With the lights off, Erazo said, he heard a loud bang and didn't know who it was.

    "I just swung it," he said of the kitchen knife, "and I didn't know it was her. I was scared.

    "From that time on, all I did was cry and say, 'I'm sorry,'" Erazo continued. "I mean, I didn't know what else to do. I didn't mean to screw up my future and the little girl's future."

    Smith's mother reported her missing around 9:30 p.m. on July 12. The next morning, around 10:30 a.m., police discovered her body wrapped in sheets and a futon on top of a shed outside a window to Erazo's second-floor apartment at the Hancock Arms complex, authorities say.

    Smith's brother saw her playing outside Erazo's apartment shortly before she went missing, authorities say. Detectives said a neighbor saw Smith enter Erazo's apartment that night.

    After detectives learned that Smith was seen entering Erazo's apartment, he went from a witness to a person of interest, Raynor testified in a separate hearing on Tuesday. 

    How man went from person of interest to accused of raping, killing girl

    In the interview, Erazo claims he left his apartment that night and saw Smith sitting on a curb in the parking lot. He said he went to the bank, got a haircut, filled out job applications, went to the convenience store and meandered in the area before getting home around 9 p.m. 

    In the course of the interview, however, Erazo changes the order in which he made those stops. At one point, Raynor points out that a surveillance camera in the area doesn't show him returning to the apartment when he says he did. 

    "You're in there when she disappears," Raynor said. "You're not where you say you were -- walking around the trails aimlessly." 

    Erazo is accused of sexually assaulting Smith. Raynor said she was found without underwear and pants, and authorities have said Erazo's sperm was found in her genital area.

    When pressed by Raynor and Jankowski on whether he had sex with Smith, Erazo claims to have blacked out and not remembered anything.

    "Did you have sex with her after she died?" Raynor can be heard asking Erazo. "Where did you have sex with her? Where are her pants? Did you get rid of everything?"

    "I guess in the Dumpster," Erazo responds. "I blacked out and when I awoke, everything was clean.

    "When I black out," Erazo explains later in the interview, "I don't remember anything. When I turned on the light, I freaked out. And that's when I blacked out. All I remember after that was seeing her covered. I can't put the pieces together."

    Erazo admits to tying Smith's body up with computer wires and wrapping her in bed sheets. He said he used toilet paper, towels and Clorox bleach to clean up the blood.

    He describes her lifeless body on the floor as looking, "like a fish out of water."

    Erazo, seated at a table next to his attorneys in a green jail-issued jumpsuit, watched himself on the screen speaking to detectives. Behind him, in the second row of the gallery, family and family friends held each other tight and wept.

    Before talking about the night Smith went missing, Raynor asked Erazo questions about his childhood and personal life.

    Erazo had a troubled childhood, he told Raynor, bouncing from town to town, apartment to apartment. His father wasn't in his life growing up and his mother couldn't keep a stable relationship, Erazo said.

    He told Raynor that he cut himself with razors and got tattoos on his arms to cover the scars.

    He explained how he avoids physical confrontation with others and instead harmed himself to deal with his "severe depression and suicidal tendencies."

    "If you hurt yourself it will make you feel better," Erazo said. "... I can't even punch someone in the face without feeling bad. I try to stay away from physical contact as much as possible."  

    Erazo said he started smoking marijuana at age 12 and by 14, he was using cocaine and heroin. He kicked the addiction after going to clinics and therapy, he said.

    "I got over it all. I didn't want that to be my life anymore," Erazo said. "I need to want happiness myself in order to change. The drugs are a temporary solution to a permanent problem."

    He grew up in a household where his mother smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. Erazo and his mother moved to Matawan when he was young and then to Middletown, where he attended elementary and middle school.

    He then lived in Eatontown before moving to the Hancock Arms apartment complex in Keansburg at the age of 18. There, he lived in an apartment with his grandmother, mother, his mother's boyfriend and a friend. Eventually, the mother's boyfriend and grandmother moved out.

    Erazo, now 19, told Raynor that he and his girlfriend recently found out she was pregnant. He would stay at her house for weeks on end and then come home and stay in Keansburg for a night or two.

    On July 12, the day Smith was reported missing, Erazo said he came home around noon and his mom was surprised to see him. It's then he told his mother that his girlfriend was pregnant.

    He said his mom thought he was mad at her, but that he assured her he wasn't.

    "I explained to her I wasn't mad at her," Erazo said. "I'm the most communicative person in my family."

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at anapoliello@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Once the project is complete, it would raise property values at the Kushner resort, a former city official said.

    The federal government has been advising a beach town on the Jersey Shore on plans to build a pier and start a ferry service that would speed New Yorkers to the doorstep of a resort co-owned by Jared Kushner.

    Kushner's seaside resort sits right next to the proposed pier, which places the federal government in the awkward position of helping steer a project that would benefit President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser.

    Once the project is complete, a former city official said it would raise property values at the Kushner resort, which is currently selling 269 condos for as much as $1.9 million each.

    The Federal Transit Administration, an agency under the Transportation Department, first gave Long Branch $3.34 million in 2008 to redevelop a fishing pier beloved by generations of beachgoers, but that's not enough money to finish the project.

    So city leaders have been talking with federal transit officials about how to apply for more funds, and say the agency highlighted the ferry plan at a conference last year as a promising way to improve traffic by getting commuters off the roads.

    Long Branch also gets FTA technical assistance and guidance on its current grant.

    Jared Kushner's family spent $6M on N.J. beachfront motel

    Kushner resigned as CEO of his family's company in January 2017 to join the White House, but according to a December financial disclosure report he still owns part of the Pier Village resort, which is currently selling its beachfront condos.

    If the pier is rebuilt on its historic site and the ferry starts up, the value of those condos could rise as much as 50 percent, said Howard Woolley, Long Branch's former business administrator.

    Kushner Cos. spokeswoman Christine Taylor said the pier would benefit Long Branch, and had "no specific benefit to us versus anyone else" in town.

    "Of course, we, like other high-class developers, discuss projects that help the communities that we serve," she said in a statement. "To suggest that we have done anything unethical is patently false and appears to be drummed up again for political gain."

    Woolley said he would regularly brief the Kushner family on the city's efforts to fund the pier, including in-person visits with Kushner's father, Charles. One meeting in 2015 ended with a round of cigars with the senior Kushner atop Kushner Cos.' headquarters in a Manhattan skyscraper, Woolley recalled.

    "Charlie was interested in seeing it built. We all agreed it would be good for the city and good for Pier Village," Woolley said.

    Woolley and Long Branch officials stressed there was no connection between Kushner's ownership of the resort and their longstanding efforts to bring a ferry to town.

    "They gave us that grant before Kushner Cos. was involved," Mayor Adam Schneider said. "If the federal government thinks it is a conflict, let them do something about it. I'm just advocating for my city."

    Emails obtained through the Open Public Records Act and interviews indicate the Kushner family and local leaders sometimes coordinated.

    A Kushner official in July 2016 wanted to set up a meeting to discuss "future pier/ferry/helicopter." A 2017 email from a Kushner partner in the project proposed a concept that could offer more parking for ferry passengers.

    And in the past few months, Kushner Cos. and partner Extell Development Co. sent Mayor Schneider their own proposal for a pier and ferry terminal that would be cheaper than the city's current plan, said Robert Goodman, Long Branch's liaison to the federal government. Schneider confirmed that he and Charles Kushner recently "exchanged ideas" about Kushner's proposal. Goodman said he mentioned the proposal to the FTA in a recent phone call.

    The FTA, which has not had a confirmed administrator since January 2014, declined to respond to questions from The Associated Press about the potential for conflicts of interest with Kushner in the White House. The agency sent a statement saying it has given the city "technical assistance on how it could become eligible to receive certain FTA funds." The FTA said to date, Long Branch had not applied.

    Given Kushner's role advising Trump on policy issues ranging from Middle East peace to infrastructure, some question whether those small-town business ties now pose a conflict of interest.

    "The development of that project will accrue to the benefit of the family's business, and will certainly enhance the value of his prime beachfront property," said Virginia Canter, an attorney with the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "He needs to recuse himself from anything involving infrastructure."

    Kushner has taken no part of any business, loans, or projects with his family's business since joining the government, said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell.

    "He has followed the ethics advice he has received for all of his work which include the separation from his business and recusals when appropriate," Mirijanian said.


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    A lucky group of 15 New Jerseyans turned their losing lottery tickets into big bucks, including a Hazlet woman who won the grand prize of $1,000,000.

    A lucky group of 15 people turned their losing lottery tickets into big bucks, including a Monmouth County woman who won $1million.

    The 2017 "Million Dollar Replay" program, in its seventh year, allows scratch off holders to enter their losing tickets online for a second chance to win big prizes. 

    The grand prize winner at Asbury Park Convention Hall on Friday was Suzzana Valuzzi of Hazlet. 

    Valuzzi told lottery officials she felt like she might faint from excitement, according to a press release. 

    The money will go toward her son's college fund, followed by paying off current debt, putting the rest in a savings account and taking a vacation. 

    Hundreds of attendees won a $250 prize, and 14 others won $10,000 or more. 

    Seven $1,000 door prizes and eight gift baskets were awarded to guests as well. 

    To take part, players have to join the lottery's VIP Club and have ought at least $10 in non-winning tickets. 

    Entry periods for the 2018 "Million Dollar Replay" have already started, with entry periods ending March 31, June 30, Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, 2018. The grand prize for 2018 will be announced March 8, 2019. 

    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at snietomunoz@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

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    A 19-year-old man who allegedly stalked at least two Howell women while they shopped and followed them home was arrested Friday -- and there could be more victims, police said.

    howell stalker mug full.jpgTristan Reyes, 19 of Howell, was charged with armed robbery and stalking, cops said. (Courtesy Howell Police Department) 

    A 19-year-old man stalked two Howell women while they shopped and followed them home with the intent to rob them at knifepoint, police said Friday.

    Tristan Reyes of Howell was charged with armed robbery, unlawful possession of a weapon and stalking two women.

    And police say they believe he may have stalked even more women while they shopped in Howell, and at the Freehold Raceway Mall.

    A chilling home surveillance video viewed more than 3 million times on Facebook shows one of the two alleged incidents, in which he lurks in the driveway while a woman unloads groceries from her car, police said.

    Reyes allegedly followed the 38-year-old woman to her home in the Ramtown section of Howell and waited for an opportunity to enter her home, police said.

    While waiting for his chance, the woman's Rottweiler runs out of the house barking, causing the man, dressed in all black and a ski mask, to run away, hide behind his van and speed away shortly after, cops said.

    The woman alerted her neighbors of a suspicious black van in the neighborhood, though she was unaware of what happened until she checked her home's surveillance footage, which her husband later posted to Facebook, warning others to be aware of their surroundings.

    On Feb. 24, Reyes allegedly followed an 18-year-old woman out of her car and into the Howell ShopRite, where he followed her around the store and back to her car.

    The woman told police that she noticed a black 2004 Honda Odyssey following her car while she made unnecessary turns on her way home.

    When she pulled over to call her father, the van also pulled over and shut its lights off. Her father allegedly tried to confront the man, but the van took off, cops said. 

    Reyes was transported to Monmouth County Correctional Institute, authorities said.

    Howell Police are asking those who have additional information or may have been a victim to contact Detective Corporal Nancy Carroll at 732-938-4574 ext. 2182 or 732-938-4111, or can submit an anonymous tip at www.p3tips.com.

    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at snietomunoz@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    Everything you need to know heading into the state finals.


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    Who wins a state title this weekend? NJ.com takes a look at the finals.


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    Results, links and coverage from the six girls basketball state finals this weekend

    Welcome to Championship Weekend, where 12 teams will compete for six state titles and the chance to advance to the Tournament of Champions.

    We're doing something new with our coverage this year.  Look out for our "Hot takes & full breakdowns" post that will collect photos, videos, impact players and our reporters' hottest takes on each game all in one place. That post will go up after the first game on Saturday and keep growing through the weekend.

    KEY LINKS
    Previews & picks for every championship game
    • Finals schedule
    • Statewide Top 20
    Sectional and Group brackets
    Statement wins upsets & surprises for the postseason 


    NEW:  Hot takes & full report on every championship game


    SATURDAY'S GAMES
    RWJ Barnabas Arena, Toms River North

    Non-Public A Final
    No. 2 St. Rose 58, No. 20 Immaculate Heart 38
    Look back at live updates
    • Game story
    Hot takes & full breakdown (Impact players & lots more)
    •  Photo gallery
    •  WATCH: St. Rose celebrates the Non-Public A title
    Box score
    • Full coverage

    Non-Public B Final
    No. 12 Saddle River Day 73, No. 6 Rutgers Prep 49 
    Hot takes & full breakdown (Impact players & much more)
    • Rebels with a cause: No. 12 Saddle River Day wins 1st title
    •  Photo gallery 
    •  WATCH: Saddle River Day celebrates
    Box score 

    Look back at live updates
    Full coverage


    AFTER TOC: The NJ.com Final 50 - top teams of the 2017-18 season


    SUNDAY'S GAMES
    RWJ Barnabas Arena, Toms River North

    Group 1 Final
    No. 8 University vs. Bound Brook, 12
    • LIVE updates
    • Game story
    • Hot takes & full breakdown
    •  Photo gallery
    • Box score
    • Full coverage

    Group 2 Final
    No. 1 Manasquan vs. No. 9 Newark Tech, 2
    • LIVE updates
    • Game story
    • Hot takes & full breakdown
    •  Photo gallery
    • Box score
    • Full coverage

    Group 3 Final
    Old Tappan vs. Ewing, 4
    • LIVE updates
    • Game story
    • Hot takes & full breakdown
    •  Photo gallery
    • Full coverage

    Group 4 Final
    No. 4 Franklin vs. No. 11 Toms River North, 6
    • LIVE updates
    • Game story
    • Hot takes & full breakdown
    •  Photo gallery
    • Box score
    • Full coverage

    NON-PUBLIC FINALS

    Non-Public A

    Non-Public B

    PUBLIC GROUP FINALS

    Group 4

    Group 3

    Group 2

    Group 1

    Brian Deakyne may be reached at bdeakyne@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrianDeakyne. Like NJ.com High School Sports on Facebook.


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    Thousands of homes are still without power in New Jersey as power companies clean up after a pair of back-to-back nor'easters. Residents have used social media to vent.


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    Everything you need for the state finals


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    Everything you need for the state finals


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    The state Board of Public Utilities has 45 days to act on a judge's recommendation to reject JCP&L's plan to clear a 10-mile swath of 100-foot-wide right-of-way and plant 'monopoles' up to 210 feet high every 500 feet

    Monmouth County residents, environmentalists and local officials won a key round last week in their fight against a "monster" transmission line proposed by JCP&L that would require clear-cutting a 10-mile-long swath of woodlands and erecting towers up to 210 feet high.

    Last Thursday, a state administrative law judge recommended that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities reject JCP&L's application for the project, known as the Monmouth County Reliability Plan, or MCRP, which is intended to improve reliability of power transmission in Monmouth County and beyond.

    JCP&L wants to string a 230,000-volt line through Aberdeen, Middletown, Hazlet, Holmdel and Red Bank, on poles placed 500 feet apart and ranging from 110 to 210 feet high.

    In recommending that the BPU reject the plan, Judge Gail Cookson found, among other things, that it could have an impact an NJ Transit rail line it would be near, and that JCP&L had failed to show that the project was necessary to ensure the reliability of power transmission.

    "Moreover, there is more than just a little aesthetic or local impact from the MCRP," the judge wrote. "The MCRP would visually impact seventy-three (73) historic properties, including many located in the heart of the historic district in Middletown."

    Opponents of the plan applauded the 180-page decision as exceptionally thorough, well reasoned, and good for residents.

    "You won't have these enormous monopoles dotting the landscape of these towns," said Murray Bevin, a lawyer for a group of four municipalities plus Monmouth County, which intervened as the Joint Municipal Group.

    Peter Dickson, a lawyer for members of the public banded together as Residents Against Giant Electric, or RAGE, called it an "amazingly good" decision.

    JCP&L has 13 days to appeal the judge's ruling to the BPU. A spokeswoman for the utility, Stephanie Walton, issued a statement saying JCP&L was weighing its next move.

    "We strongly disagree that JCP&L failed to prove the need for the Monmouth County Reliability Project," Walton stated. "The initial decision contradicts the findings made by the regional grid operator and industry experts. Any alternatives to the proposed project would cause significantly greater disruption to the community, environmental impacts and project costs."

    The BPU has 45 days to act on the judge's recommendation, including rejecting it, accepting it, or accepting it with modifications. If the board fails to act, the decision becomes final.

    A BPU spokesman, Peter Peretzman, issued a statement saying the board, "will issue an Order within the time prescribed by the New Jersey Administrative Code."

    The project would be constructed within a railroad right-of-way for NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line measuring about 100 feet wide. Locating the line within the right-of-way would minimize its impact on the communities it would traverse, according to JCP&L.

    While JCP&L says the line would improve reliability of power transmission across Monmouth County, the company was acting at the urging of PJM Interconnection, a company that administers the Eastern Interconnection grid, an electricity network in 13 states including New Jersey. PJM insists that the transmission lines is necessary to insure reliability of the Eastern grid.

    In 2016, JCP&L asked the BPU to exercise its authority under state law to approve the project without consent of the municipalities where it would be located. But several parties who oppose the plan intervened in the application process, including the state Rate Counsel, the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Joint Municipal Group, and RAGE.

    In a measure of public opposition to the project, an overflow crowd of 1,000 people packed the auditorium and cafeteria at Middletown High School North in January 2017, with speakers including children up past their bed times. It was a public hearing presided over by Cookson, where some carried signs that were also posted around the affected communities. "No monster power lines in our neighborhood," read the signs, which also included the group's website, StopJCPL.org.

    The judge's ruling was another blow to JCP&L in an already bad week for the utility, when thousands of its customers lost power in Wednesday's snowy nor'easter, the second storm in five days to topple trees, down power lines and darken homes and businesses. The ruling came on the same day that Gov. Phil Murphy ordered an investigation into what he characterized as a sluggish response by JCP&L and other utilities to the power outages.  

    The $110 million project has been criticized by environmentalists who oppose the deforestation it would involve and the threat the project would pose to hawks and bald eagles, which would be at risk of fatally colliding with the lines in fight.

    Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said if the project were truly necessary, JCP&L should be willing to place the lines underground. Otherwise, he said, the utility should not be incurring a cost that would ultimately be passed on to ratepayers.

    "They should be fixing their power lines and not be wasting money on this," said Tittel, referring to the recent power outages. "As a JCP&L customer who lost power, I can say that."

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Some civil rights activists want to remove a statue of James A. Bradley from its prominent place a block from the beach


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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil nailed it this year.

    Until it starts warming up, BluePearl Veterinary Partners has some tips for protecting pets during freezing weather.

    --The most common-sense tip is - don't leave a pet in the cold for too long. Bring pets inside if you start to see redness in their tails or ears or they start to shiver. Once inside, help them clear any ice between their toes.

    --Find a de-icer that is pet-friendly if you use one on your driveway and sidewalks. Various toxins and even salt can cause problems for pets, as they have a tendency to lick the substances off their paws.

    --Winter can make it hard for pets to find their way back home because ice and snow mask familiar scents and paths. Make sure dogs and cats that are allowed to roam have identification tags and, if possible, are microchipped.

    --Dogs can't say "My arthritis is acting up in this cold." If a pet struggles when getting up and moving around the house, a trip to the vet might be in order. Also, make sure there is soft and warm bedding available in cold weather.

    --A sweater or coat for short-haired dogs is a wise investment. Rather than being decorative, items like these are highly functional in cold weather.

     Until the temperatures rise to springtime levels, it's a good idea to make sure your pets are as comfortable in cold weather as they can be.


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    The student-led activism in the wake of the Florida high school massacre is inspiring students across the Garden State to in their schools and outside of it to demand the change they want to see.


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    Take a look at state history and see which teams have won it all in the TOC.


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    Check out every thing you need to know about the opening round of the TOC.


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    The burger joint may more than double their amount of N.J. stores by 2019.

    Shake Shack has been popping up in North Jersey towns in recent years, but now the ultra-popular burger chain could be coming to a new region of the state.

    According to The Asbury Park Press, the Freehold Township Planning Board will consider a proposal for a Shake Shack location to open on Route 9 at their meeting Wednesday night.

    The newspaper reported that the defunct gas station on the corner of northbound Route 9 and East Freehold Road would be knocked down and a 3,514-square-foot restaurant that could seat 84 patrons would be built, according to plans submitted by Getty Realty Corp., a New York-based real estate investment trust.

    However, before Monmouth County residents get too excited, the APP did note, based on the submitted plan, Getty will have to be granted 15 variances by the township in order to be in compliance with zoning laws.

    Besides the potential Freehold location, in the next two years, Shake Shack is also set to open locations in Marlton, Lawrence Township, Parsippany and Wayne, as previously reported by NJ Advance Media.

    Shake Shack, which started as a hot dog stand in Madison Square Park in Manhattan in 2001, has become an insanely popular burger joint since they opened their first storefront in 2004. They describe themselves as the "modern day "roadside" burger stand," serving a variety of burgers, hot dogs, shakes, frozen custard, and beer and wine.

    The franchise first popped up in Paramus in 2013, before opening three other locations in North Jersey, including another one in Paramus, as well as in Bridgewater and Livingston.

    Joe Atmonavage may be reached at jatmonavage@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @jatmonavageNJFind NJ.com on Facebook


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    Third big nor'easter of March 2018 will be a powerhouse storm in areas north and east of New Jersey, but not a strong storm for Garden State. Here's a look at the timing, snowfall forecast and advisories.


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