LAKEWOOD SCHOOL WANTS TO GET BANQUET HALL APPROVED NEAR WESTGATE WITHOUT NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC

Back in July 2015 when Lakewood Township's Planning Board granted Site Plan approval to Bnos Esther Malka to build their school on Old Whitesville Road across from Westgate, the Board stipulated that the basement dining hall could not be rented out for any events during regular week nights. 


This stipulation was because 1) banquet halls are not a permitted use in that zone and therefore would require a Use Variance which only the Zoning Board can grant, 2) the school was providing 42 off-street parking spaces which were more than the 37 required by Township ordinance but not enough for a banquet hall.


The Board resolution further stipulates that "Applicant shall resubmit this entire proposal for re-approval should there be any deviation from the terms and conditions of this approval or the documents submitted as part of this application, all of which are made a part heareof and shall be binding on the applicant".


Now, the developers of the school have submitted a letter to the Board asking for approval to lift the restriction on renting the basement during the week as the school will nearly double their parking lot with an additional 32 parking spaces to a total of 74 parking spaces. The portion of the basement used for rental/events consists of approximately 3,287 square feet.


The developers of the school have not submitted this request as a typical Amended Site Plan, with legal notices published in the paper and mailed to property owners within 200 feet, but rather, as "correspondence" which is a one-page written request, which does not provide legal notices to the press and neighbors, and does not provide members of the public an opportunity to object to the application.


The item has been added to the Board's July 12 agenda.


While the additional parking spaces is welcome news for this school which has cars parked all along the adjacent roads which are extremely narrow, the proposed banquet hall - and the way it is being presented - is cause for concern.


Firstly, banquet halls are still not a permitted use in this zone and therefore, permitting a banquet hall is under the jurisdiction of the Zoning Board and not the Planning Board. In fact, despite the known-fact that many schools have banquet halls, the Township ordinance only permits "catering facilities" in shuls, not schools. It is not up to us to judge the wisdom of the Township Committee who saw fit to differentiate between shuls and schools, but so be it.


Additionally, no traffic study has been provided for this new nightly use.


Furthermore, no notice is being provided to the public, especially to the neighbors. Back in 2015 when the school did provide notice to their neighbors, the neighbors did come to present some concerns and traffic pattern suggestions which the Board did take into account. However, Lakewood Planning Board's policy regarding correspondence matters clearly stipulates that for "correspondence items" notices are not provided to the neighbors, and members of the public are not afforded the opportunity to speak.


Now let's take a look at what "correspondence" is intended to be used for.


The Lakewood Planning Board's policy regarding correspondence matters states "matters that may be administratively approved [and don't require returning with an Amended Site Plan] are by definition not significant changes and do not require board approval... [therefore], the board’s function [when reviewing matters under correspondence] is to review the recommendation and consent [of the Board's professionals] to make certain that the board’s professionals are carrying out the original intent of the board. Examples would be where a resolution needs to be amended to fix what amounts to a typographical error or where insignificant site plan adjustments need to be made due to field conditions, miniscule error correction and the like."


This means that "correspondence" in lieu of an Amended Site Plan, no notice to the public and no permission for the public to comment, is for "miniscule, insignificant changes" which could really be approved administratively by the Board's professionals but the Board reviews such requests anyways to ensure that their professionals are carrying out the original intent of the board.


Permitting the 3,287 sq feet basement to be rented out on a nightly basis, with additional parking, hardly seems to be a "miniscule, insignificant change". Additionally, the Board's 2015 resolution clearly states "applicant shall resubmit this entire proposal for re-approval should there be any deviation from the terms and conditions of this approval". As restricting the basement from getting rented out during the week was an express condition of the approval, the applicant should now need to "resubmit this entire proposal" - with proper plans and notice to the public - "for re-approval".


Bnos Esther Malka is in a busy area across from Westgate. A nightly Simcha Hall may bring a quite significant impact to the neighborhood. It just doesn't seem fair to smuggle in this use under cover of a correspondence item.


What do they have to hide here??

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