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Back in 2017 and 2018, Lakewood Township officials struck a massive deal with Beis Rivka Rochel (BRR) whereby the Township would give BRR 20 4th Street, adjacent to the Kikar Shabbos shopping center, which included a community center, playground and basketball court; as well as their municipal parking lot at 301 Monmouth Avenue; and BRR agreed to demolish the mixed-use building that was on their own lot at 305 Monmouth Avenue and to replace it with 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 key piece of the prized puzzle was that Beis Rivka Rochel would construct a new Community Center at John Patrick Park and they would maintain the original 4th Street Community Center continuing in operation until the new facility receives its Certificates of Occupancy.

For some unexplained reasons, this plan didn't go exactly as planned, and the community center has already been demolished despite the new building not having been constructed yet.

Up until now, the excuse was that the Township was waiting for environmental permits from NJDEP to be able to construct the new community center.

Great news! The environmental permits have just recently been granted! Will the Township now require Beis Rivka Rochel to get working on constructing the new community center??

Now let's start all the way at the beginning:

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 worth millions of dollars 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 as follows:

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 agreement struck 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.

Shortly after the agreement was signed, Township officials embarked on plans on obtaining a 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.

At this point, Township officials realized that this project was going to take longer than anticipated, but they continuing expending money to obtain the necessary CAFRA permit.

In January 2020, the Township obtained a $375,000 grant for an asphalt bike path around the John Patrick park on Vine Street and along the street frontage of the park, as well as for a portion of roads in the industrial park. This grant, which aims to "improve the quality of life for New Jersey residents without burdening local property tax payers" appears to be for a ADA-compliant walkway outside the new community center, so Beis Rivka Rochel will have one less walkway to construct.

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.

In November 2020, just before the onset of the winter when the community center would typically 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!

Shortly afterwards, Beis Rivka Rochel proposed a change of plan whereby, instead of constructing the new community center they would build the new inspection department building. Additionally, the stipulation of keeping the community center in place until the new one was constructed was to be waived. LDC agreed to this deal, though, curiously, Beis Rivka Rochel is yet to actually sign the amended agreement which they themselves proposed!

Engineering site work for the inspection department building 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.

At the Planning Board meeting it was represented that Township officials were planning for Beis Rivka Rochel to build the new inspection department (which was quite puzzling as BRR did not yet actually sign the Amended Agreement to build the inspection department building).

Additionally, construction of a project of this scope would typically be required to be bid out to the lowest bidder, so it's quite puzzling how Township officials could simply sign a deal with Beis Rivka Rochel for them to construct this building in lieu of the community center building. (Come to think of it, the construction of the community center likely would also be required to be bid out...)

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.

To be fair and clear, the 2018 agreement states that the community center and playground are being given over "as-is" simply with the stipulation that the community center be maintained until the new center is constructed; it does not say what future use is contemplated for the property once the community center is demolished nor does it restrict any particular redevelopment, however, the agreement does state that the lots at 301 and 305 Monmouth Avenue are "to be dedicated in perpetuity for public parking". It does not state clearly whether the entire lot needs to be 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. According to the Planning Board Site Plan however, these lots are now being calculated for the standard parking that the Kikar Shabbos is required to provide for their shopping center. Additionally, some of the parking spaces have signs restricting them for specific tenants of the shopping center. It is mind boggling how this can be permitted in a public parking lot?

Either way, 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 that provisions for that park were signed and set a few months ago (see previous story here on FAA News).

As the 2018 agreement which required that the community center be maintained until the new center is constructed was the only agreement in effect as it was the only agreement which was signed by both parties, the demolition appears to have been a major violation of the agreement.

Curiously, Township officials who were made aware at the time of this slight issue did not seem too bothered.

The great news now is that NJDEP just recently granted the long awaited environmental permits required for the John Patrick park and construction of the community center!

So... The big question is, will the Township seek to enforce the 2018 agreement - which is the only agreement which is currently signed by both parties - and require construction of the new community center?

Or, perhaps, will Beis Rivka Rochel now swiftly sign the 2020 amended agreement which permits construction of the inspection department in lieu?

According to Township officials, construction of the inspection department is also being held up due to waiting for environmental permits, so perhaps if the 2020 amended agreement is signed that will buy them time until they figure out to push that off as well...

If the Community Center does not get built, the exorbitant costs and efforts the Township expended in obtaining the costly environmental permits will be a real waste.

If Beis Rivka Rochel does build the Community Center, will the Township solicit a contractor for the inspection department by way of a public bid?

We are eagerly awaiting the next scene of this movie.

[By the way, fun fact: The asphalt bike path which the Township secured in January 2020 is part of annual grant which the State awards to municipalities who wish to enhance safety for all by installing bike and pedestrian paths. Ever since the bike path award for the community center, Township officials have not even bothered to apply for annual State grants for any additional bike or pedestrian paths for anywhere in town. Why not? Do we not lack sidewalks in Lakewood?? Seems the Township can only be bothered to work for funding when it's to help developer deals such as this amazing Kikar Shabbos deal...]

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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.

Basically, the Committee was saying "just be quiet and let us sell the property for $1 and then you can go bother the new owner regarding whatever he will do with the property."

Shlomo Chaim said...

Why do no such people like you have to keep sticking their nose into things which are none of your business? Go find corruption in better places.

Anonymous said...

Even the LDC parking lots that he received under this $1 deal were themselves scandalous because he got the Township to build him "public parking lots" for his school next door. Eventually when he wanted to expand his shopping center, he took those parking lots for his shopping center instead.

Regency Development said...

The neighbors are simply evil. I tried explaining that to them. I even threatened to move all the trash cans to their side if they continue to fight us at the Planning Board. I also tried telling them that the 25 foot setback Variance we needed so we could expand the building (and hopefully sneak in a simcha hall) instead of building a separate building with respecting their variance, we "already were getting" because "it was ours" because "we wanted it".

All to no avail. A group of neighbors who were only concerned for their children's safety simply made my life miserable as I tried every way I could to trample on their lives.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your invaluable publicity. Are the parking lots behind kikar Shabbos still public lots? There is lots of signage stating that it's specifically for kikar Shabbos. There is a severe shortage of parking in the area due to BMG opening another Bais Medrash in Bais Shmuel-6th and Princeton.

Reporter said...

Yes, all of 301 Monmouth Avenue, 305 Monmouth Avenue, and 20 4th Street are "public lots in perpetuity"