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The Lakewood Township Committee has quite some explaining to do!

As the news was first broken here on FAA News, the Lakewood Township Committee has introduced an ordinance which would formally permit catering facilities and banquet halls in schools in all zones where schools are permitted uses (which is everywhere in Lakewood besides for in or adjacent to the senior housing developments), provided that "certain parking is provided".

Under the proposed ordinance, the following parking requirements will need to be met:

Where the section of the school utilized for catering and banquet functions is under 800 sq feet, no parking will be required.

Where the section of the school utilized for catering and banquet functions is 800 square feet to 1,999 square feet, 0.75 parking spaces shall be required for every 100 square feet of area utilized for catering and banquet uses.

If the section of the school utilized for catering and banquet functions is 2,000 square feet of greater, then 1.0 parking spaces shall be required for every 100 square feet of area utilized for catering and banquet uses.

According to banquet hall industrial standards, a 2,700 sq feet banquet hall can fit a reception area and dance floor for 300 guests.

Under the Township Committee's proposed regulations, a 2,700 sq feet banquet hall in a school would require only 27 parking spaces.

Lake Terrace has 12,000 sq feet of banquet hall space and their 379 parking spaces are inadequate as has been shown in court. Under the Township Committee's proposed ordinance, a banquet hall the size of Lake Terrace would require only 120 parking spaces.

It's important to note that the language of the Township Committee's proposed ordinance does not clarify whether this parking requirement will be IN ADDITION to the parking requirement for the school, or if the school developers will be able to claim that the banquet hall parking can be "shared" with the parking already being provided for the school.

This proposed ordinance first became known to the public on October 18th, which is the date that the Township Committee published their October 20th meeting agenda which included the first reading of this ordinance.

The FAA News story was published the same night that the Township Committee published their meeting agenda.

In our story we noted that the Planning Board has been asking the Committee for a number of years to set forth a framework to legalize banquet halls - so as to be able to ensure that adequate parking is provided for the banquet halls, and obviously the Township Committee's introduced version of the Ordinance proposes to do the exact opposite.

As first reported here on FAA News, Bnos Brocha's simcha hall was shut down in court because they never received a Use Variance from the Township Zoning Board for the use of a banquet hall which was required as banquet halls were not a permitted use in this zone (or in schools in any zone in Lakewood). The Township Committee's proposed ordinance would greatly assist Bnos Brocha in getting their banquet hall reopened as it would only require an approval from the Planning Board and not from the Zoning Board. As the use would be permitted the application would be by-right and impossible for the Planning Board to deny as long as the application meets the parking requirements.

The big question is, did the Township Committee introduce this ordinance just now, specifically to assist Bnos Brocha (which may be illegal due to the continuation of the litigation in court), or can they claim that (as noted in our first report) "the Planning Board has been asking for years for us to legalize simcha halls".

According to a report on Lakewood News Network, "LNN has interviewed Lakewood committee members, lawyers, planning and zoning board officials, who insist the proposal is unrelated to the Bnos Bracha case. The concept was discussed in Lakewood government for many years, and has been raised by the planning board numerous times."

FAA News can now confirm this report to be completely implausible, and the Township Committee are the ones who have quite some explaining to do.

As noted above, the first date that members of the public became aware of the proposed ordinance was October 18th, the date that the Township Committee published their upcoming meeting agenda.

FAA News has now confirmed that on October 4th Bnos Brocha submitted an application to the Planning Board to legalize their simcha hall - this was 14 days before anyone else knew that the Township Committee was going to introduce an Ordinance which would grant the Planning Board jurisdiction to hear such an application!

Did Bnos Brocha read the Township Committee's mind, or were they already "in the know"? If they were indeed in the know, why did officials reportedly deny this fact and tell LNN that the proposed ordinance had nothing to do with Bnos Brocha? The Township Committee has quite some explaining to do!

(Note that Bnos Brocha's simcha hall was shut down in court on September 23rd, which was Friday just before Rosh Hashanah which was the following Monday and Tuesday, September 26th and 27th, and Tzom Gedaliyah which was Wednesday September 28th. That left 3 full business days until October 4th, Erev Yom Kippur which is the day the application was submitted to the Planning Board - quick work on the part of NewLines Engineering!)

Either way, Bnos Brocha's application, SP 2508 is being sped up to the Planning Board's November 29th public hearing. This is quite amazing as the Township Committee is not even scheduled to adopt their ordinance on second reading until December 8th - and, until then, the parking requirements could always change.

Additionally, Bnos Brocha has filed in court for a Motion for Reconsideration on their shutdown.

Bnos Brocha's new attorney Lawrence Shapiro wrote to Judge Ford:

"As BB’s prior counsel argued to the Court on the return date of Plaintiff’s motion to enforce litigant’s rights, “[t]here is no proof before the Court today, nor has there ever been, that [the school] is being used a catering hall[.]” To that end, he noted that the one-page agreement was “not a catering agreement by any sense of the word” because it lacked crucial information, such as the cost per person, the hours of service, and the cost for additional hours.

"Moreover, BB provided a certification disputing many of the assertions in Plaintiff’s motion, particularly the claim that the school was being used as a commercial facility open to the general public for profit. Among other things, the certification of Shraga Zeldes, the president of BB, stated that BB has “never been notified by the Township of any violations of any ordinance or approvals granted to Bnos Brocha by the Township.” In addition, he certified that “[t]he use of Simcha Hall by Bnos Brocha is not for commercial purposes but solely to provide for the needs of the school community to hold religious events such as bar and bat mitzvahs which include a small reception following such events.

Finally Zeldes asserted that Simcha Hall “does not advertise nor does it seek business from the public, and its only function is to the immediate religious community” and “is not set up to make a profit[.]”

In the face of competing versions of events, the Court should have held a hearing to determine whether BB had breached the injunctions.  It was not appropriate to decide a factual dispute – whether BB had used the school for a nonschool-related purpose – in the context of oral argument on a motion.  By crediting the certifications of Plaintiff and its private investigator and discounting the certification of Mr. Zeldes, the Court made a credibility determination without the necessary information.  Among other issues, Plaintiff raised concerns about parking, which the Court appeared to agree with notwithstanding the fact that there is no ban on street parking in the relevant area.  Moreover, there is an issue as to whether the use of the banquet hall is a permitted accessory use, which would moot Plaintiff’s arguments that same is not permitted." The letter then notes that the Township Committee is proposing an ordinance which would permit banquet halls in schools and that Bnos Brocha has already submitted an application to the Planning Board on the assumption that this ordinance will get passed.

Bnos Brocha is seeking a court hearing for November 18th - prior to the Planning Board application hearing and prior to the Township Committee's next meeting date.

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Aryeh Stern said...

Interesting. On the one hand they are arguing that there is no proof that their banquet hall is "used as a commercial facility open to the general public for profit", and on the other hand they are arguing that the Township Committee may soon permit banquet halls and that will make the litigation moot.

If they are indeed not a catering hall then the shut down order did not actually shut down any catering hall because you can't shut down something that doesn't exist.

If they are a catering hall, and catering halls have a pending Ordinance, but not yet a permitted use, why should they be allowed to reopen? They are indeed operating שלא כדין.

Their running to court while the ordinance is still pending and the knot has not yet been tied, is extremely fishy.

Let's wait out the Ordinance, see if it gets passed and then they will easily be able to claim that the litigation is moot.

Why the sudden need now to file this motion??

Bnoser said...

What are they proving with waving the "proposed ordinance"?

If anything, the need for an ordinance proves that indeed they are not currently permitted as an accessory use and therefore they should remain shut down.

Perhaps something else way bigger is going on behind the scenes.

Thanks to the FAA coverage (which LNN and others copies), Attorney Rob Shea immediately placed the Committee on notice that he is opposing the ordinance on legal grounds and that gave the Committee a lot of heat. As such they are not 100% sure that they really want to go through with adopting this ordinance.

Therefore, to deal with the hot issue, they advised Bnos Brocha to file a Motion for Reconsideration on the basis that they deserve a plenary hearing. They are waving the "pending ordinance" now - with this emergent filing to the court - as they can't wait for the final adoption of the ordinance as, thanks to all the heat the Committee is receiving, that final adoption may never take place.

Shmuel Shtark said...

Either way, Bnos Brocha's motion arguments are rediculus as they have already "been there, done that" in court.

They assert that they are not in violation of Township ordinances with the "proof" that the Township has never issued them any violations.

Aha! That certainly is major proof that they are not in violation!

Regarding their assertion that they are not a catering business, rather "they permit the Simcha Hall to be used by members of the school community for celebrations of bar and bat mitzvah’s and other religious related events", Mr. Shea already responded that Bnos Brocha is only a girls school so therefore, the "members of the school community" only include girls, and therefore, "the hosting of a Bar Mitzvah which is held when a boy turns 13, is clearly beyond the scope of any approval". Mr. Shea also already provided pictures of a chosson and kalla - definitely way beyond the scope of "only for school purposes".

Additionally, when Judge Ford straight out asked Mr. Lipstein "are the events held only for students of the school?", Mr. Lipstein admitted "I'm not 100% sure."

Regarding their claims that they are "not a business", R' Shraga Zeldes in his deposition already admitted that the simcha hall is "open to the public".

Regarding their claims that they do not advertise, Mr. Shea has already proven that they do advertise, including in the Lakewood Directory. Additionally, Judge Ford already stated very clearly "in that town, you don't need to advertise. The word of mouth advertising is more powerful there than anywhere else."

Additionally, the contract which Bnos Brocha claims is simply a "basic rules and regulations" has already been discussed. Mr. Shea already showed that there is an arbitration clause and that would not be necessary if it was not a real contract.

Regarding the complaints of parking congestion, Mr. Lipstein tried arguing that "most events are at night and that we have tried offering to assist with traffic control". Judge Ford already rebuffed this argument, saying "that is not the real issue here. The real issue here is whether or not these events are permitted".

Besides, what do they stand to gain from holding a plenary hearing with cross-examination of the witnesses? Will Mr. Zeldes claim under cross-examination that the simcha hall isn't a simcha hall??

What will change with cross-examination?

Chaim Grossman said...

I think that Bnos Brocha is trying to pull some major shtick - in strong coordination with the Township.

Why are they running to the court with the claim that "the ordinance at Planning Board application are pending and underway", instead of waiting a few more weeks until everything at the Township is legit complete?

More specifically, why are they going to the Planning Board on November 29th when there is a PB meeting even sooner on November 15?

I think that they are coordinating this purposely because they want their court hearing (which is tentatively being scheduled for November 18) to take place before going to the Planning Board on November 29, because they actually don't want to really go to the Planning Board.

They don't actually want to present and fight Rob Shea at the Planning Board, rather they want to go to court and say "judge, we have a pending Ordinance and a pending Planning Board meeting. You anyways screwed up on our motion hearing so please vacate the shut down order while we have everything at the Township "underway".

Then, if the judge agrees, they will find a way to "need to postpone their Planning Board meeting" and they will quietly withdraw. This will buy them a bunch of months in court as they will keep telling Judge Ford "everything is pending in the Township, let us stay open as everything pends in the Township".

Yitzy Berger said...

The Township Committee does not even intend to adopt the ordinance, as that will allow Rob Shea to file a lawsuit against the ordinance.

The introduction of the ordinance was only a ploy to enable Bnos Brocha to file their Motion for Reconsideration with the claim that "the Township has a pending ordinance".

It's a win-win, because Bnos Brocha will be able to argue that they should be permitted to reopen, and, as long as the Township Committee does not actually adopt the ordinance, they won't get dropped with any lawsuit.

In Lakewood, what matters is not who you vote for, but who counts the votes.

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to discourage the residents from fighting against this super crazy ordinance that already passed the first reading? I won’t fall for these games. We need to scream in the city streets about how terrible this idea is!

Yitzy Berger said...

Not at all! We need to fight the proposed ordinance because we need to show the Committee that we care and that they can't just get away with anything they want to do.

Zalman Klein said...

The good news is that the next school that tries to swingle the Planning Board to approve a Simcha Hall as "an accessory use to the school", we can definitively tell them "sorry, the banquet hall ordinance remains pending indefinitely so you'll need to go to the Zoning Board for a Use Variance".

Classic Lakewood Township Committee to hook up one school and leave everyone else in the dump.