Ahead of a scheduled court hearing over allegations that they violated their Consent Order by commencing work on an expansion to their parking lot, Bnos Brocha has now agreed to stop all construction work, in order to avoid possible sanctions by the Court, FAA News has learned.

As first reported here, in November 2020, after their industrial neighbor Clayton Associates learned that Bnos Brocha rented space to a linen store called Table Linen, LLC, a/k/a La Tableau, without ever having received Township approval for this outside business on school property, Clayton, represented by Attorney Rob Shea, filed a lawsuit seeking to immediately shut down operation of all non-school purposes uses on the property.

Subsequently, Clayton also learned of the existence of Bnos Brocha's simcha hall which also never received Township approval, and they amended their lawsuit to include this additional non-school use as well.

Following an injunction hearing in January 2021, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Marlene Ford signed an order granting injunction restraints against Bnos Brocha from using the Simcha Hall for "any business, non-school purposes", pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

At a subsequent hearing in February 2022, Attorney Howard Lipstein Esq. explained that the simcha hall was still operating as the simcha hall is not "for business purposes", but rather, "Bnos Brocha is a community school for the Religious Jewish community, and the banquet hall is used strictly for religious events by members of the community school."

Judge Ford signed an order permitting "the banquet/catering facility... to be used only for school purposes by defendant Bnos Brocha and/or any successors, vendors, for purposes associated with the school and not for business or commercial use."

Subsequently, Clayton obtained a copy of the simcha hall use agreement which indicates that the school does rent out the hall for a fee - in contrast to the representation by their attorney at the February 17, 2022 hearing.

Clayton also obtained a copy of Bnos Brocha's school calendar which indicates that their last day of school was June 22nd.

Clayton's investigative team observed the simcha hall being used on 16 days after the school year ended.

In response, at the end of August, Clayton filed a Motion to Enforce Litigant's Rights, seeking to "immediately cease all activity in the simcha hall until such time as it receives all requisite and unappealable approvals for same."

As the news was previously broken here on FAA News, on September 23rd, just before Rosh Hashanah, Judge Ford granted the Motion and ordered Bnos Brocha to immediately cease all activity in the simcha hall until such time as it receives all requisite and unappealable approvals.

As the Township at the time did not permit banquet halls in this zoning district, reopening the simcha hall would have required Use Variance relief from the Township's Zoning Board which could be difficult to receive when there is a professional land use attorney opposing the application.

To help fix this problem, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Township Committee recently adopted an Ordinance permitting banquet halls as an accessory use to schools in non-residential zones including the industrial park.

As previously reported here on FAA News, on October 4th, even before the Township Committee introduced their ordinance, Bnos Brocha filed an application to the Planning Board for approval for their simcha hall (which at the time, the Planning Board lacked jurisdiction to approve), and, shortly after the ordinance was introduced, Bnos Brocha filed a Motion for Reconsideration of their "shut-down order."

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

"There is no proof before the Court today, nor has there ever been, that the school is being used a catering hall...

"Moreover, BB... disputes... the claim that the school was being used as a commercial facility open to the general public for profit... Shraga Zeldes... certified that “the 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."

As previously reported here on FAA News, prior to the scheduled court hearing on the Motion for Reconsideration, Clayton Associates and Bnos Brocha signed a settlement agreement wherein Bnos Brocha acknowledged that they never have received any Township approval for their simcha hall and that, in accordance with the Court Order of September 23rd, "to be clear, Bnos shall not use the Property to host events... or in any way utilize the Property as a catering/banquet facility, whether for school or for non-school related purposes, absent Bnos obtaining all non-appealable approvals and permits for such use."

The Consent Order also stipulates that Bnos Brocha has only received 2 Planning Board Resolutions of Approval, from their original 2013 Site Plan as well as from their 2018 pool application, and that Bnos Brocha will adhere to the strict wording of these resolutions which condition that they shall "resubmit this entire proposal for reapproval should there be any deviation from the terms and conditions of this resolution or the documents submitted as part of this application."

Along with signing the consent order, Clayton Associates completely withdrew their lawsuit, with the stipulation that they can immediately run back to Court to Enforce Litigant's Rights if Bnos Brocha does violate the Consent Order.

The same day, Bnos Brocha withdrew their Planning Board application to legalize their banquet hall.

However, as recently reported here on FAA News, mere days later their legal saga restarted as soon as Bnos Brocha started construction for an expansion of their existing parking lot. As soon as Clayton Associates noticed, Attorney Rob Shea wrote a letter to Bnos Brocha, in accordance with the Consent Order, notifying them that this construction is in violation of the Consent Order which requires them to return to the Planning Board prior to commencing any construction.

Mr. Shea also notified the Township Attorney of the violation and demanded that the Township issue a Stop Work Order on the construction work.

Saying that they did not receive any response from Bnos Brocha or from the Township, Clayton Associates then filed an Order to Show Cause with Temporary Restraints.

The court filing asserts that over 2 days, "an excavator was digging up the land and pavement on the easterly side of the property and piles of dirt and gravel were stacked in mounds nearby. The trucks from the construction crew parked along Corporate Road West and blocked the access way to 1650’s lot which provides access to several of our tenants."

The court filing notes that the whole litigation originally commenced because the school previously violated their Township approvals and these violations caused "heavy traffic congestion and as trespassing", and now, "the construction taking place on Bnos’ property could potentially exacerbate all of the issues that 1650 has already
faced for over a year. Furthermore, it is unclear as to what other factors will be implicated by Bnos’ construction, such as the ingress and egress
to the property, the flow of traffic, as well as potential drainage and lot coverage issues."

"The history of this litigation has been an ongoing cycle of blatant disregard for Court Orders and the land use ordinances of Lakewood perpetrated by Bnos to the detriment of its neighbors. Bnos must not be allowed to continue its construction in
open and obvious violation of the Consent Order. Furthermore, although Township counsel was copied with 1650’s letter, to the best of my knowledge, the Township has not issued a stop work order to Bnos," the court filing continues.

The court filing sought for the Court to schedule a "show cause" hearing on the matter, and to immediately impose restraints "enjoining Bnos Brocha from commencing or continuing any construction, modification, or other changes to the site or use from those contained within the Consent Order until such time as the property receives approval from the Lakewood Township Planning Board, or, in where applicable, the Lakewood Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, as well as any and all requisite outside agencies."

Bnos Brocha's Attorney Lawrence Shapiro immediately responded with Opposition to the Motion, arguing that this parking lot expansion was approved administratively by the Planning Board Administrator who determined, based on Township ordinance, that no public hearing was required because this expansion is less than 1,500 sq feet and that "the work involved shall not negate any condition of a previously approved site plan as created by the approving Board."

Mr. Shea subsequently responded to this Opposition with a Reply Brief.

He argued that Bnos Brocha is in the wrong for hiding this Administrative approval until now. This Administrative approval was submitted in December 2021 - yet, during Shraga Zeldes' deposition which took place 5 months later, and when Bnos Brocha responded to Clayton's Interrogatories (which Bnos Brocha certified 9 months after the administrative approval), Bnos Brocha asserted that the 2013 and 2018 Planning Board applications were the only applications that they knew of relating to alterations on their property.

Additionally, Mr. Shea submitted expert reports from Engineers Gordon Gemma and Jeffrey Carr who opined that the parking lot application should not have been approved administratively for a number of reasons including that it does contain more than 1,500 sq feet and it does create a variance of parking less than 20 feet to the property line.

Mr. Shea further asserted that since the filing of this Order to Show Cause, Bnos Brocha has sped up construction of their new parking lot, apparently because their goal is "to finish as much construction before the Court hearing as possible in order to manufacture an estoppel argument."

Even more alarming, Mr. Shea alerted the Court of a subsequent violation which occurred since the filing of the Order to Show Cause - a Bar Mitzvah.

"It has further come to Plaintiff's attention that on December 26, 2022... Bnos rented out their building as a banquet hall for a Bar Mitzvah despite the Consent Order's express prohibition on same."

Mr. Shea provided an exhibit of the Bar Mitzvah invitation as well as a notice to guests to "only park in the back parking lot, and to not use the front entrance" - "in a clear effort to slip their violation past Plaintiff's notice."

"In light of the Bar Mitzvah, held in clear violation of the Consent Order and the incorporated Court Orders, it is patently obvious why Bnos has elected to commence their construction, and why they would go to such lengths to conceal their administrative approval. Bnos is clearly attempting to use an expanded parking lot to hide their banquet hall activities... so that they may be spared further sanction by the Court. In fact, Bnos has notably sped up construction since the Plaintiff's filing of the Order to Show Cause.

"In keeping with their disregard of Court Orders, the Consent Order is less than one month old, and Bnos has already elected to act in violation of same, on not one but two counts. Based upon this new violation, and their prior history of violations of the Court's Orders, Plaintiff would further request that the Court issue sanctions upon Bnos, or alternatively, schedule the matter of the banquet hall violation for the return date of the motion on any final restraints so that the issue may be more fully briefed," Mr. Shea concluded.

Judge Ford denied the Temporary Restraining Order, but set a hearing on the Order to Show Cause for next Wednesday, January 18, 2023.

However, today, Bnos Brocha and Clayton Associates signed a Consent Order wherein Bnos Brocha agreed to immediately "without prejudice or admission of any impropriety," cease all construction work on their property and to restore the work area other than the drainage improvements. In return, Clayton has withdrawn without prejudice and without costs to either party, their Order to Show Cause with Temporary Restraints. The Consent Order was also signed by Township Attorney Jean Cipriani.

This consent order, which is expected to be signed shortly by Judge Ford, cancels the previously requested court hearing which could have resulted in Bnos Brocha being ordered to pay sanctions and legal fees.

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