LAWSUIT SEEKS TO SHUT LAKEWOOD'S LAKE TERRACE WEDDING HALL

There has been an ongoing year-and-a-half long legal saga regarding the famous Lake Terrace wedding and concert hall in Lakewood. Now, the drama increased a notch as industrial neighbors have made a new attempt to completely shutter Lake Terrace.


Neither schools nor banquet halls are permitted uses in this industrial zone, and as such, either use would require a Use Variance approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. As the site is located in the Airport Hazard area, certain uses would also require an additional state permit.


Back in 2005, Beis Rivka Rochel received Zoning Board approval to change the use of an office building located at 1690 Oak Street into a "private school with an assembly hall".


At the Zoning Board hearing, School Dean Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kanarek testified that his proposed "assembly hall" would be used for High School plays. There was never any mention of weddings and concerts. Somehow, after this Zoning Board approval, the Lake Terrace wedding and concert hall was built.


In 2010, unexplainably, Lakewood Township issued a Certificate of Occupancy for a banquet hall, despite the owners never receiving a Use Variance from the Zoning Board for this banquet hall.


In November 2020, Clayton Associates, a supplier of vacuum and source capture systems and a tenant of Sudler Company which owns several buildings adjacent to Lake Terrace, put the Township on notice that Lake Terrace was operating as a banquet hall despite having never received a Use Variance from Lakewood Township's Zoning Board of Adjustment to build a banquet hall. The Township chose to ignore this notice.


In December 2020, Clayton filed a lawsuit in Ocean County Superior Court charging that Lake Terrace was operating without the required Use Variance. The suit named the owners of Lake Terrace, their tenant Greenwald Caterers, and the Lakewood Township zoning and construction officials. The suit seeked to shut down Lake Terrace as well as collect monetary damage for certain property damage that Clayton claimed occured to their sprinkler system and lawn as a result of banquet hall patrons illegally parking in their parking lot.


The suit also alleged that Greenwald Caterers had its corporate status revoked because it failed to file annual reports.


At the injunction hearing on January 26, 2021, Clayton Associates was represented by Toms River Attorney Robert C. Shea. Lake Terrace was represented by Red Bank lawyer Matthew N. Fiorovanti. Greenwald Caterers failed to appear in court.


Superior Court Judge Marlene Ford declined to order the Township to enforce its zoning laws to shut down Lake Terrace. Judge Ford also declined to bar Lake Terrace completely from operating, however, noting that Greenwald Caterers, failed to appear, and noting that their corporate status was revoked because it failed to file annual reports, Judge Ford ordered that Greenwald Caterers is restrained from operating at Lake Terrace.


Additionally, pending the outcome of the entire lawsuit, Judge Ford ordered serval restrictions on Lake Terrace including the following conditions:


1. The banquet hall must adhere to all parking restrictions including maintaining all parking on site only;


2. There shall be no outdoor activities or events on the banquet hall property


Judge Ford formally signed this order on February 3, 2021.


In July 2021, after Greenwald Caterers filed an appearance and a Motion to Vacate Default Judgement, Judge Ford granted permission for them to return to Lake Terrace.


Sometime later, Lake Terrace made an application to the Zoning Board for a Use Variance, but later pushed off and eventually withdrew the application without ever being heard.


While the Zoning Board application was pending, attorneys for Lake Terrace, Greenwald Caterers and Lakewood Township seeked to get the judge to declare the lawsuit moot on the basis that "this site is now in the jurisdiction of the Zoning Board". In response, attorneys for Clayton seeked court approval to shut down Lake Terrace until - if, and when - it receives Zoning Board approval. Judge Ford denied to declare the lawsuit moot. She also permitted Lake Terrace to continue to operate as a banquet hall with the February 3, 2021 restrictions, noting that that the Township did somehow give them a Certificate of Occupancy for a banquet hall and therefore they do have some rights to operate as such.


Lake Terrace is famous for hosting many Mexican concerts on weekend nights. As reported in local media, these events typically bring out large crowds, go well into the night, and have had occurances of violence including stabbings.


In December 2021, saying that in "the last several weeks" his clients learned that Lake Terrace's owners had "also decided to turn the hall into a concert hall with over 2,000 attending these events", Attorney Shea filed a new lawsuit seeking a court order to stop concerts at the facility on the basis that Lake Terrace never received any Township approval to operate a "concert hall".


A motion hearing was set before Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson on a Friday afternoon just one day before a major concert was to be held at Lake Terrace.


Late Friday afternoon, Judge Wellerson ruled that the concert could proceed only if Lakewood police and fire officials inspected the facility in advance to determine the safe occupancy limit for the concert, as well as the number of security personnel needed, and put their requirements in writing. When no inspection was made, the show was canceled.


The following Monday, another hearing was held and the judge ordered that all future concerts be cancelled. The judge formally signed this order on January 4, 2022, and added that, as an Assembly Hall (which is what the Zoning Board approved in 2005), Lake Terrace may only host "seated events up to 714 people".


On March 16, 2022, Lake Terrace filed a motion to modify the February 3, 2021 order to permit them to host outdoor events. Lake Terrace's attorney explained that, as the summer was coming up, the banquet hall wanted the option to host outdoor chuppah's.


In response, on April 6, 2022, Clayton filed a Cross Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights, seeking to uphold the February 3, 2021 order. Clayton advised the judge that, on March 2 (which was Lag Baomer), in violation of the February 3, 2021 order, Lake Terrace held an outdoor Lag Baomer event. Clayton complained that there was a lot of overflow parking onto the local streets and neighboring parking lots, all in violation of the February 3, 2021 order. Clayton seeked to have the judge declare Lake Terrace to be in contempt of court, shut them down, and order them to pay legal fees and fines.


At the motion hearing, Lake Terrace's attorney explained very simply that Lake Terrace had "no knowledge" of the Lag Baomer event held in their parking lot and that they never rented out their parking lot for that event.


Judge Ford declined to grant the Cross Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights, and she didn't shut down Lake Terrace, however, she also declined Lake Terrace's motion to modify the February 3, 2021 to permit them to host outdoor chuppah's.


The judge did however, state clearly that, "if there is no compliance from these parties and there is a continuation of just bending this order of the court, then I will entertain a motion to shut them down and to order monetary sanctions".


This week, Clayton has filed a new motion, claiming that Lake Terrace has continued to violate the court orders. According to the documents filed, Lake Terrace held several weddings in May which had overflow parking on the adjacent roads. Additionally, last week their was an outdoor chuppah which was set up in Clayton's parking lot. Clayton immediately called the police to report the trespass. The police arrived and the chuppah was moved to the Paco Way roadway, which the police shut down to permit the chuppah to take place.


As a result of these court-order violations, Clayton and Sudler are again seeking court favor to shut down Lake Terrace completely, and for legal fees and other monetary sanctions.


Lake Terrace is yet to respond to these just-filed documents. Judge Ford is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the matter on July 8.


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