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At their upcoming meeting on Thursday afternoon, Lakewood Township's Committee is expected to grant final approval for the expansion of the Kikar Shabbos shopping center on 4th Street and Monmouth Avenue, by granting a road vacation which is necessary to permit sufficient parking on the site.

Thanks to the strong efforts of dedicated neighbors, Beis Rivka Rochel, the developer of the shopping center will return the favor by granting 1,000 sq feet of land for a public park. (Actual construction of the park is to be built by the Township with taxpayer funds).

The deal between the Township and Beis Rivka Rochel regarding this property goes back to 2017, and curious minds wonder if this was simply "an innocent deal gone bad" or if there was something nefarious planned from the get-go.

Back in 2017, there was a 1.71 acres Township-owned lot at 20 4th Street, adjacent to the Kikar Shabbos shopping center, which included a community center, playground and basketball court.

In April 2017, the Township Committee adopted an ordinance that laid the groundwork towards eliminating this recreational space which was used heavily by all the nearby residents, and giving it up for private commercial construction.

The ordinance states that "this property is not needed for public use as it is presently maintained, inasmuch as a new facility is required", and therefore, to "benefit the residents of the Township of Lakewood through the more efficient management of the property and the township's facilities", the Township will transfer ownership of this entire lot to the Lakewood Development Corporation (LDC), "in conjunction with ... a land transaction LDC is entering with BRR wherein they are contracting to exchange land, including this parcel and other properties, to be encumbered with perpetual deed declarations creating public parking facilities and BRR shall construct an approximate 7,800 squarefoot new Lakewood Community Center at John Patrick Park... with the presently existing Lakewood Community Center continuing in operation until such time as the new facility has been constructed and appropriate Certificates of Occupancy been issued".

LDC is an arm of the Township. Transferring Township property via the LDC permits the Township to sell the property to a third party for $1 instead of the usual way of selling the property at a public auction to the highest bidder.

The full agreement between BRR and LDC was subsequently signed in February 2018.

That agreement discusses 3 separate lots, which were owned by these 2 parties:

LDC owned

1) 301 Monmouth Avenue, Block 160 Lot 1.03

2) 20 4th Street, Block 161 Lot 2

BRR owned

3) 305 Monmouth Avenue, Block 160 Lot 1.02

The plan was for LDC to give their 2 lots to BRR, and for BRR to demolish the mixed-use building that was on their own lot, (305 Monmouth Avenue) and to construct a public parking lot with appropriate lighting, as well as to complete improvements to the parking lot on the LDC property (301 Monmouth Avenue) by installing lighting fixtures and adding parking spaces. Both of these properties were to be dedicated for public parking use for the land in perpetuity.

The agreement does not specify what BRR would build on the community center lot (20 4th Street) rather it stated that BRR would receive this lot and all structures thereon in its "as-is" condition, and they would build a new community center at John Patrick park and they would maintain the original community center until completion of construction of the new community center.

Included in this agreement was a clause that noted that construction of the new community center would require an environmental permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, known as CAFRA, and that the LDC would obtain this permit, and construction on the community center would be required to be completed within one year of acquisition of the CAFRA permit.

In January 2019, things hit a snag when DEP responded that a CAFRA was also required – and never applied for – for the entire John Patrick Park which was built over 10 years ago, and as a result, the Township would now be required to submit for a CAFRA permit for the entire park as a prerequisite to constructing the new community center. This expanded permit would involve costly traffic improvements and expansion of the park's drainage system.

In November 2020, just before the onset of the winter when the community center would be used as the Township's Code Blue homeless shelter, the Township's Inspection Department mysteriously appeared and determined the community center to be "hazardous" and they shuttered its doors. Boom. Apparently this magically eliminated the requirement for the property's new owner to maintain the community center until the new center is constructed.

In the meantime, Township officials got busy planning construction of a new building for the planning, engineering, inspection, and code enforcement departments which are currently housed at 212 4th Street.

In September 2020, the Township took a $2 million bond for construction of this new inspection department building.

Engineering site work for this project began in March 2021, and in July 2021, plans were presented to the Planning Board for this new 8,110 sq feet pre-fabricared one-story building with 56 off-street parking spaces, which is to be located on America Avenue near the Public Works complex.

Construction of a project of this scope would typically be required to be bid out to the lowest bidder. However, at that planning board hearing, the project engineers revealed that instead of bidding out this project, the township is shelving plans for the new community center and BRR will construct the new construction departments building instead!

(By the way, fun fact: LDC actually offered to BRR to swap the community center for the inspection department building already back in December 2020, however, BRR did not then take them up on the offer.

On Dec. 8, 2020, LDC adopted a resolution offering to BRR an amendment to the 2018 agreement which would have changed BRR's obligation from building a new community center to building a new inspection department building. It would have also eliminated BRR's requirement to maintain the community center until the new building is constructed.

LDC reached out to BRR several times to get them to sign this amended agreement, yet, as far as we know, BRR has not actually signed it yet.)

Is it possible that, back in 2017 and 2018, when the major deal was hashed out, all parties involved acted in good faith, thinking that the CAFRA permit would be a simple matter and that once it would be obtained and then the new community center would get built and the original community center would not shuttered or demolished until the new community center was built, and then the turn of events was simply because DEP's stipulation that the Township would be required to install an expensive drainage system as a prerequisite to receiving the CAFRA permit made the community center project too much of a major headache? (Remember, LDC is the one obtaining the CAFRA, not BRR).

Is it further possible that when the Township bonded $2 million for the new inspection department, they truly planned to properly bid out the project to the lowest bidder?

Or, perhaps, is there something nefarious going on? Did the parties specifically choose for the new community center a location which required a CAFRA permit, knowing that they would never obtain the permit and then they could play around and release BRR from their part of the deal to build a community center?

Either way, questions still remain what will become of the $2 million bonded by the township for this project? Will they return it or we will continue to pay interest on it? Additionally, will BRR be compensated for building the new construction offices? If yes, how much?

Furthermore, we have an additional question: The 2018 agreement says that the lots at 301 and 305 Monmouth Avenue are to be dedicated in perpetuity for public parking. These lots are now the site of the Kikar Shabbos shopping center and parking lots. The 2018 agreement does not specify if the entire lot needs to for public parking or if most of the lot can also be used for a shopping center, however, it does stipulate that there needs to be a public parking lot. The issue is that Kikar Shabbos included all the parking spaces in their Site Plan to fulfill their requirement for parking for their shopping center. Additionally, some of those parking spaces have signs restricting them for specific tenants of the shopping center - how can this be permitted in a public parking lot?

Either way, in July 2021, demolition on the community center began, and several days later, despite heavy opposition from the neighbors, the Planning Board approved a Site Plan for the expansion of the Kikar Shabbos shopping center onto the community center lot.

As part of their opposition, neighbors expressed hurt that their public park was eliminated to make way for the shopping center expansion. 

These neighbors reached out to Mayor Ray Coles to assist in brokering an agreement to replace their eliminated park.

The good news is, provisions for that park are expected to be set in place today!

There is a public right-of-way called Steckler Street which currently runs through a small portion of the future shopping center expansion. This afternoon, the Township Committee is expected to formally vacate this right-of-way to permit for additional parking for the shopping center, and at the same time, the Committee is expected to formally accept from BRR a dedication of a triangular-shaped, approximately 1,000 sq feet easement for the purpose of the Township constructing a public pocket park thereon.

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Anonymous said...

A 1000 SF park? Thats like 40 x 25. What a joke. About big enough for one swing set, and a bench. Talk about getting screwed over.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, a Mr. Weinstein but the property at a Township tax sale?, then Senator Bob Singer (Shlomo Chaim's, PIC) had the sale vacated "illegaly", then had it transfered to Shlomo Chaim, and the rest is history-

Anonymous said...

Why did the committee give 2 million dollars worth of taxpayer-owned property (stretching from 4th St till 2nd St. behind Kikar Shabbos) to Mr. Kikar Shabbos for free to utilize for expanding his investment project?? Why is it right for them to let him take away the large recreation area, which was used by all the kids and bachurim in the neighborhood, in return for one dollar and his setting aside a tiny area which can basically only fit a swingset for toddlers.

This is beside the fact, that when the LDC transferred the huge parcel to the developer, they stipulated that it can only be used as a PUBLIC PARKING LOT for everybody in town. Instead, he decided to blatantly ignore the contract terms and is building a large retail building on the property, including the designating of the parking spots for the exclusive use of his tenants. He also got the Committee to vacate a paved and fully-in-use public street (Steckler) so he can put his building on top of that too. When neighbors protested about the shenanigans and the terrible effect on their quality of life, they were bullied and intimidated by Regency Development to shut up and behave or they would suffer a worse development project.

This type of stuff is nuts!!

Anonymous said...

According to minutes from the Township Committee meeting back on August 20, 2009:

Moshe Lankry thanked Deputy Mayor Langert and Mr. Wouters for reaching out to the downtown storeowners and meeting with them to try to redevelop and rebuild the downtown area.

Mr. Lankry advised he was representing a few store owners, and they are concerned about a paper street near the Community Center, Steckler Street, with a large area behind it. They have heard rumors that someone wants to develop Monmouth Avenue into a mall, or storefronts. The Clifton Avenue storeowners would like to know what is planned for that area, and how it will affect the storeowners on Clifton Avenue.

Mayor Singer advised that Mr. Coles would respond on the issue of Monmouth Avenue.

Mr. Coles explained that they have been approached at the Urban Enterprise Zone to build a parking lot behind where the current Community Center is located to service a new shopping center that would be built along Monmouth Avenue. He believes that the tentative plan is to have one of the non-profit grocery stores move there, the one that is in the tent on Route 88 presently. The participation from the LDC will be limited to constructing the parking lot, which would be a public parking lot for everyone. There will be additional stores down there, which they hope will be a positive project for the area.

Mr. Miller confirmed that any proposed parking lot would have to go before either the Zoning or Planning Board.

Mr. Coles answered yes; it would have to go through the regular channels.

Mr. Miller added that it would be publicized before anything happens.

Back then already, the Committee assured Mr. Lankry that the future parking lots would be public for everyone.

How in the world is it now ok for there to be signs in the parking lot restricting some of the parking spaces to specific tenants??

Anonymous said...

Those signs were illegally posted by the mall owner. He thinks that the residents are ignorant and won’t find out the truth, so he can do whatever he feels.

It’s nothing new for him.