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As previously reported here on FAA News, Lakewood Township's zoning ordinances currently do not permit stand-alone banquet halls or banquet halls in schools. The Township's zoning ordinances only permit "catering facilities" to be included in shuls, but not in schools.

This has led developers of schools such as this one and this one to solemnly testify to the Planning Board - under oath - that there will not be any Simcha Hall, despite that their architectural plans clearly depicted a simcha hall; or for the developers of schools testify to the Planning Board that the banquet hall is "permitted as an accessory use to the school". The schools making their own definition and permissibility of "an accessory use" is very complex and has landed numerous schools such as Beis Reuven Kaminetz (see here and here) and Bnos Brocha in expensive and lengthy lawsuits - and even to get shut down under Court order, and loss of harmony with the residential neighbors who are inconvenienced by the additional traffic and parking nightmares they endure.

The result of either mehalech (situation) is a bunch of banquet halls in residential neighborhoods with insufficient parking and inadequate buffers, which are truly unfair to the neighbors.

Until now, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Lakewood Township Planning Board, under pressure from school developers, turned a blind eye to simcha halls and made believe that they simply were not included in school applications.

However, as the news was very first broken right here on FAA News, all this may soon change drastically, as Lakewood's Township Committee has introduced an Ordinance that would formally permit catering facilities and banquet halls in schools in all zones where schools are permitted uses.

There are several glaring issues with the proposed ordinance.

• As schools are currently permitted everywhere in Lakewood besides for in or adjacent to the senior housing developments, this proposed ordinance would permit a simcha hall to be built on every block!

• Additionally, the Committee introduced their Ordinance with an extremely low parking requirement:

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 this proposal, a banquet hall the size of Lake Terrace which has a 12,000 sq foot banquet hall - which can accommodate many hundreds of people - would require only 120 parking spaces! Currently, Lake Terrace has 379 parking spaces and even that is insufficient on many nights.

It's quite puzzling as to how the Committee even dreamt up such a low parking requirement, as the last time the Township Committee discussed banquet halls was in April 2021, when they proposed to amend the Cedabridge Corporate Campus zone to permit banquet halls to be included in hotels at 8 parking spaces per 1,000 sq feet; and at that time, the Planning Board which reviews all proposed land use ordinances, amended the proposal to permit banquet halls but only at 1 parking space per 1 person of the banquet hall capacity, and only if/when Pine Street is dualized. The Committee acquiesced to requiring 1 parking space per 1 person of the banquet hall capacity, but eliminated the requirement to wait until if/when Pine Street is dualized.

At the time, Mayor Ray Coles stated that he "would like to" enact this strict parking requirement for banquet halls all over town. It is therefore puzzling as to how and why the Township Committee now introduced this ordinance at much less parking.

Additionally, 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.

The Planning Board is scheduled to review this ordinance today at their Public Hearing which takes place at Town Hall beginning at 6:00pm.

The Planning Board may recommend that the Committee eliminate certain zones such as the Industrial Park from where banquet halls will be a permitted use in schools. They will also review the parking requirement and hopefully clarify that this parking needs to be in addition to the parking requirement for the school, and that the school developers can not claim that the banquet hall parking can be "shared" with the parking already being provided for the school.

The Planning Board typically does not accept comments from the public during the meeting when they review and vote on ordinances, however, Board Attorney John Jackson advises that members of the public are permitted to share their comments with board members prior to the meeting.

Today is the final day for the Planning Board to review this ordinance and State Law provides that the Planning Board is directed to prepare a report of its recommendations to proposed land use ordinances within 35 days of the date it was introduced, or else the Committee will be relieved of the requirement to obtain a Planning Board report for the proposed ordinance, and as the Township Committee introduced the ordinance on October 20th, the 35 day deadline will be this Saturday, November 19 and the Planning Board's next meeting is not until the following Tuesday, November 28th.

The Township Committee is expected to hold a public hearing and second reading on the Ordinance at their next meeting on Thursday December 8th.

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."

As previously reported here on FAA News, this story is completely implausible, and the Township Committee are the ones who have quite some explaining to do, as, already on October 4th Bnos Brocha submitted an application to the Planning Board to legalize their simcha hall - this was 14 days before the Township Committee published their upcoming meeting agenda which includes this 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?

Additionally, being that, according to the LNN report, the Township Committee has acknowledged that this concept was raised by the planning board numerous times, why did they wait until now to introduce such an ordinance, and even more importantly, why did they introduce an Ordinance with such a low parking requirement despite the Planning Board last time majorly increasing the parking requirement for this same "concept" (i.e. banquet halls)??

Either way, the Township Committee has quite some explaining to do!

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Anonymous said...

Bnos Brocha's banquet hall application is already scheduled for November 29th. How convenient of a coincidence is that?

Nachman said...

I've been following this issue together with many of my neighbors. My first problem with this obviously flawed ordinance is, why did the Committee choose to draft such an unreasonably low parking requirement in the first place?

I understand that the committeemen want us to believe that at this stage the ball is in the planning board's court. But why did the Committee send them this particular parking formula to begin the conversation with, instead of the more sensible parking ratio of 1:1 (meaning 1 spot per each 1 person occupying hall space), which they themselves adopted just last year based on the planning board's specific recommendation at the time?

This question was actually sent to the committee during their meeting, as only they're able to answer why they decided on this, but they decided not to respond. Instead, they just shifted the responsibility for this mess-of-an-ordinance to the planning board members, so they can deal with the problem and become the fall guy.

In general, I feel that although Simcha Halls may indeed be necessary for the residents, they should not become a permitted use in residential areas of town, and most certainly not without strongly assuring that the Hall provide a realistic number of parking spaces in their parking lots. (Even in non-residential areas the minimum parking requirement must factor in the reality on the ground.) We cannot have a hefkervelt. There must be a proper balance.

Adopting this ordinance as proposed would remove any ability for neighbors to express their legitimate concerns to the board about the driving, parking, and safety issues at and around these simcha halls. And we all know how bad these situations are. No elaboration is necessary. The last thing our town needs is more disaster zones!