A nearly 10 year long project to construct a 5-story Courtyard Marriott hotel on Pine Street and New Hampshire Avenue is moving forward, with water and sewer connection service having just been finalized, FAA News has learned.

The project was the subject of years of litigation due to the Lakewood Planning Board approving the  application despite its faulty legal notice. After their approval was tossed out in the New Jersey Appellate Division, Lakewood's Township Committee amended the wording in their ordinance to permit the hotel project to slide through despite objections and despite insufficient parking.

Back in 2014, RD Lakewood, LLC (owned by Thomas Rosenberg) filed an application with the Lakewood Township Planning Board for site plan approval to develop a 5-story, 22,500 square foot hotel, a 3,153 square foot bank and 153 parking spaces, on Pine Street and New Hampshire Avenue.

Before the public hearing, RD Lakewood published a public notice in the local newspaper and mailed it to all property owners within 200 feet of the site as required by MLUL. The public notice stated that RD Lakewood applied to the Board "to construct a hotel as well as a bank."

At the public hearing, architectural plans were shown that included a bar, restaurant, and banquet facilities. These proposed uses were not listed in the applicant's legal notice.

Lakewood Realty Associates (LRA), which owned the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakewood and the Ramada Inn in Toms River, represented by an attorney, raised several issues and presented its own expert witness to testify against RD Lakewood's development application.

Despite the objections, and despite the fact that the application required certain variances, the Board unanimously approved RD Lakewood's application and adopted a resolution on June 23, 2015.

In July 2015, LRA filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking reversal of the Board's approval. LRA argued, among other things, that RD Lakewood's public notice was deficient because the notice stated that the site was for a "hotel and a bank," and did not mention the proposed bar, restaurant, and banquet facilities.

The Superior Court upheld the Board's approval and dismissed the lawsuit, determining, among other things, that the notice stating a hotel was proposed was sufficient given that the architectural plans on file with the planning board clearly indicated the proposed hotel would also include a restaurant with a bar, banquet facilities and meeting rooms, which the judge noted "are common amenities in a hotel of this size associated with a national brand."

LRA continued on and appealed to the Appellate Division.

Ultimately, in 2019, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court's decision and tossed out the Planning Board's approval.

The Appellate Division held that RD Lakewood's public notice was materially deficient because it did not adequately describe "the material characteristics of the development's proposed uses."

In tossing the lower court's decision, the Appellate Division noted that despite RD's assertion that restaurants, a bar, banquet facilities and meeting rooms, "are common amenities in a hotel of this size associated with a national brand," the issue is that on the local level, Lakewood Township's ordinance includes a definition of a hotel and that definition only said that "motels typically do not include lobbies and hotels do typically include lobbies," without specifying that hotels typically include restaurants, a bar, banquet facilities and meeting rooms.

The simple way to move forward would have been for RD to submit a new application to the Planning Board with proper notice listing all of the proposed uses. However, this would have been problematic as then, objectors could have argued that each use requires its own parking - which RD saw no reason to provide.

Never ones to sit back after someone suffers a loss in court and does not want to submit a new application and provide sufficient parking, in November 2019 Lakewood's Township Committee came to the rescue with an ordinance amending their definition of a hotel to expressly say that hotels "may include, but not be limited to, a lobby, full-service restaurant, cocktail lounges, meeting rooms, banquet facilities, and convention facilities..."

By amending this ordinance, the Committee fixed RD's double problem, as their new notice did not need to disclose all of these proposed uses, as they were now expressly part of a hotel, and parking did not need to be provided for each of these uses, as they would be considered accessory uses which the ordinance deemed permitted with no additional parking requirement.

Of note is that prior to voting on the ordinance, Committeeman Albert Ackerman asked for an explanation on the ordinance wording change. Township Attorneys Steven Secare and Harold Hensel vaguely responded that this change was simply "to clarify the use."

Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, who manages properties for the proprietors of RD Lakewood, did not recuse himself from voting on this ordinance.

In August 2020, RD Lakewood sent legal notice to the neighbors notifying them about an amended application for a "hotel." The notice did not include the additional proposed uses inside the hotel, rather it stated that the amended application sought approval to "slightly reduce the footprint of the hotel and to remove the bank in lieu of additional parking spaces.⁣"

In September 2020 the Lakewood Planning Board approved the new application for a 5-story hotel with 138 rooms, a pool and sauna, gym, 3 meeting rooms, a bistro and 6,700 sq feet dining area, and a total of 193 parking spaces on the 3.569 acre lot.

Access will be provided through a new driveway on Pine Street. The driveway will have a single entrance lane with a 2 lane exit for right and left turn lanes. The driveway will be 43 feet wide.⁣

The Ocean County Planning Board also granted approval of the application, with the condition that the applicant install a new, right turning lane from New Hampshire Avenue southbound onto Pine Street.⁣

⁣In November 2020, Lakewood Realty Associates filed yet another lawsuit seeking to overturn this approval as well.

In part, that lawsuit alleged that while the Township Committee did amend their ordinance to permit "banquet facilities" in hotels, they did not intend to permit even a 6,700 sq foot banquet hall "which could bring hundreds of people besides for the hotel guests to the site, resulting in impact to the public."

Ultimately, in January 2022, Judge Marlene Ford denied these and other claims, and upheld the Planning Board's approval.

The project has now moved forward as the developers have just recently secured water and sewer service from the Lakewood Township MUA.

In the spring and summer of 2020, while this hotel project was going for its second Planning Board approval, the MUA planned ahead and clogged industrial park school bus traffic in order to extend their sewer main 5,200 linear feet from Vassar Avenue to Oberlin Avenue, and then down New Hampshire Avenue. This hotel project will now be able to tap into this sewer main extension.

Curiously, in executing the Developer's Agreement, the MUA was represented by Counsel, Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq, despite that Mr. Pfeffer also represented RD Lakewood at the Planning Board and in Superior Court.

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