"Coming out in strong numbers and voicing unified concerns earns amazing results," exclaimed Prospect Street residents on Tuesday night after Lakewood Township's Planning Board unanimously denied Application SP 2490 for a new 3-story office building at 1536 Prospect Street, in front of, and fully surrounded by, the recently constructed Prospect Heights/ King Solomon Drive development.

The application was submitted by Yehuda Dachs of Orange Pool Holdings.

This site was previously approved in 2021 by the Zoning Board for a 2-story retail shopping center. That approval is for a single story of retail space, with the second floor permitted for storage use only (and no basement).

Mr. Dachs now presented an application to the Planning Board, seeking to replace the approved 2-story retail shopping center with a larger - and importantly, higher - 3-story office building. All 3 floors were proposed for office space.

While the previously approved retail shopping center required Use Variance relief from the Zoning Board, office use is a permitted use, therefore the new application was presented to the Planning Board.

The application sought a number of bulk variances: Minimum lot area of 1 acres where 3 acres is required; Minimum lot width variance of 132 feet where 300 feet is required; Minimum front yard setback of 50 feet where 100 feet is required; Minimum side yard setback of 21 feet where 30 feet is required; and a Front yard parking setback of 10 feet where 20 feet is required.

Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq. told the Board, "we already have an approval for a retail shopping center. We are presenting this application instead as we felt this was better for the neighborhood than a busy retail center."

Engineer Brian Flannery echoed his words, saying "office buildings generate less traffic because once the cars arrive, they stay all day, whereas retail uses have cars coming and go all day."

Mr. Flannery added that Mr. Dachs came to an agreement with some of the neighbors that he will shift the drainage in the rear of the site away from their homes, to frost the windows facing the Prospect Heights development, and to never permit a child care center in this building. Additionally, due to safety concerns at the driveway where there is currently a school bus stop, they will not put any plantings in that area.

However, many more neighbors - who are new homeowners - came out in strong numbers to say that these concessions were inadequate as they fully disagree with the premise of the application (that an office building is better than a retail shopping center).

The neighbors stated that while there are commercial buildings across the street, aside for the hospital all the way down the road, their side of Prospect Street is fully residential and also, there are no 3-story high buildings on their side of the road either. They emphasized that the parking will not be sufficient, and traffic will be way worse with an office building, therefore "this application and the variances they are seeking will affect our quality of life."

The neighbors also noted that their development is down a hill so when they drive out onto Prospect Street, which is the only access road into their development, they need to drive up the hill and then turn sharply out; and this sharp turn will be made even more difficult with the proposed driveway so close to their only driveway.

Another new neighbor commented that he never contemplated that there would be such a tall office building here, as when he entered into his contract, Mordechai Eichorn represented to him that this parcel will likely be developed into 3 residential duplex structures.

Board Member Justin Flancbaum wasn't so sure he agreed. "Are you sure you prefer retail? Office buildings attract only professionals who come in the morning, stay inside all day, and then leave at the end of the work day, whereas retail shopping centers attract families and other non-professionals who come and go all hours of the day and night."

"The shopping center would attract us as well so we would know and be comfortable with the shoppers and employees," the neighbor responded, adding that there already is a similar sized shopping strip on Cedar Bridge Avenue and there is never too much traffic coming and going there.

Another neighbor commented to the Board that, as recently reported here on FAA News, the same developer also just presented a similarly planned application, whereby he was previously approved for residential homes and now he is dropping down an application to add a retail shopping center right in front of the new residences; the only reason that only this application has opposition is simply because there no one moved in yet while here we already moved in.

Another neighbor stated that before approving any new building, "let's first fix the traffic problems." Chairman Moshe Neiman responded that unfortunately that's not how it works, we can't stop him from building whatever he can legally build.

The Board also expressed concerns that in his first review letter, the Board Engineer wrote "the Traffic Circulation Plan shows refuse and fire truck circulation through the proposed project. It appears fire truck circulation will not be adequate when vehicles are parked on the site." After the application was revised, the Board Engineer still had concerns, and noted that "fire trucks have not been considered on the Traffic Circulation Plan for the new layout."

Board Member Moshe Raitzik expressed concern with voting on an application that does not provide circulation for fire trucks.

Chairman Neiman echoed his concerns, and asked if the Board of Fire Commissioners has already reviewed this application.

Board Engineer Dave Mangos responded that the application was forwarded to the Board of Fire Commissioners, and they have not yet submitted their response. He also clarified that while fire trucks can not circulate throughout the parking lot, they may be able to get into the driveway in an emergency.

Mr. Flannery pushed back, arguing that the Township ordinance does not specifically require developers to ensure that fire trucks can adequately circulate parking lots. Rather, the ordinance requires that we submit our application to the Board of Fire Commissioners for their review.  In this case, we submitted our application to the Fire Commissioners, they are the ones who did not yet respond to us.

Mr. Flannery added that due to the sizeable scope of the application, and the pressure from the neighbors, they are prepared to agree to a condition that if the Planning Board approves the application now and later the Board of Fire Commissioners says that they are not satisfied with their application, they will return and redesign to satisfy any concerns they may have.

Chairman Neiman agreed that that's sufficient, saying, "the Fire Commissioners were not man enough to look at the plans before it got to our public hearing, however I am ok with them looking at the plans only afterwards as long as the applicant agrees that if the Fire Commissioners are not satisfied then they will need to revise their plans accordingly."

Board Member Bruce Stern vehemently disagreed, saying that it's not sufficient to say that "we will address this concern with the Fire Commissioners after the Planning Board approves the application," because the Board Engineer specifically noted the concern in his review letter to the Board, "that means it's not a compliance issue, but rather a public hearing issue" that we need to be satisfied on before we vote on the application.

Chairman Neiman responded by expressing frustration with the Board of Fire Commissioners not having submitted their response, saying, "had we already gotten their approval, then we would know that the circulation is sufficient and we would save a half hour of deliberations on our end."

Board Administrator Ally Morris added that a while ago, after a fire on a narrow block near the railroad tracks, the fire department complained that they never get development plans submitted for their review. In response, we showed them many plans from over the years that they never responded to. Additionally, we have made certain since then to continue to require every developer to send their plans to the fire department. And yet, they still do not send them back with responses.

Board Member David Helmreich asked, if the Board now approves the application and the Board of Fire Commissioners subsequently says that their plans are inadequate, are they prohibited from building?

Board Attorney John Jackson Esq. responded, "no. Once the Planning Board approves the application, the Board of Fire Commissioners can not prevent them from building unless they are in violation of a Building Department requirement."

Mr. Jackson added that while the Board of Fire Commissioners' review can be helpful to the Planning Board, even if the Fire Commissioners did review and approve an application, the Planning Board would still be within their rights to override the Fire Commissioners as unlike the Planning Board, they do not have an engineer and full board assisting them.

Mr. Jackson also told the Board that this application does have variances so they certainly have leeway to deny the application. "If you are uncomfortable with the application, there is probably a good reason," he said.

Prior to voting on the application, Mr. Helmreich asked one of the neighbors what percentage of new home buyers (from the same time that he entered into his contract) were made aware of this application? The neighbors responded "only 25%." Mr. Helmreich responded that that is concerning.

Mr. Pfeffer closed out the presentation of the application by saying, "as I stated in the beginning, this was approved for retail, we thought this office building was better. If the neighbors don't want it, then we hear their opinion. We are fine with any vote."

Mr. Stern supported the neighbors, saying "this board has been consistent in listening to neighbors when they come out strong in opposition to an application." He added that he agrees with the neighbors that peak traffic for office buildings are during the same hours as all the other traffic which the neighbors already need to contend with.

Chairman Neiman added, "it's not like they can't build anything because they do already have an approval for retail. Also, the retail will also benefit the new neighbors."

Board Member Justin Flancbaum disagreed with the neighbors, saying, "office space would be better here, however they are asking for all sorts of variances, so we are in the right to deny the application."

The Board voted unanimously to deny the application.

Back in December 2022, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Planning Board tabled an earlier version of the application for a 3-story office building on this site, citing concerns with the proposed rear yard setback so close to the new residential dwellings.

At their previous public hearing, Attorney Miriam Weinstein Esq. and Mr. Flannery represented to the Planning Board that "the previously proposed retail shopping center would have had stores that attract customers from all over town, thereby causing additional traffic in the area. The developer reasoned that an office building right in front of a new large residential development would provide a perfect opportunity for the new neighbors to walk to their office, and this would decrease the need for additional traffic in driving to their offices."

Mr. Raitzik asked if the developer has actually lined up any of the new homeowners as tenants of the office building. Mrs. Weinstein admitted they did not yet do that.

Mrs. Weinstein and Mr. Flannery also represented to the Board that their Zoning Board approval included offices on the second floor.

However, a review of the minutes from the Zoning Board approval appears to show something else.

On October 4, 2021 the Zoning Board application was represented by Mr. Pfeffer and Mr. Flannery.

In response to the Board's concerns that there would be a large store that would attract customers and traffic from all over town, Mr. Flannery represented that "they will stipulate that there will not be a grocery store."

Additionally, at the December 6, 2021 Zoning Board hearing, the application was represented by Mrs. Weinstein and Mr. Flannery, and they represented then that the 2nd floor will be for storage only - not offices.

Following exposure on FAA News of this previous misrepresentation by Mrs. Weinstein and Mr. Flannery, at Tuesday night's public hearing, Mr. Pfeffer conceded that the retail approval did stipulate that the 2nd floor will be for storage only - not offices.

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Not blinded said...

Pass the popcorn 🍿.

It's all one big tic tac toe pattern.

Developers misrepresent to the home buyers about what they are really going to build next door.

The Board of Fire Commissioners stand strong to their "we ain't getting involved" position, therefore they fail to review the Site Plan.

Then, the best part is that Lyin' Brian solemnly affirms that immediately after receiving Planning Board approval, they will do whatever it takes to satisfy the Fire Commissioners.

Uh huh.

The developer is represented by Adam Pfeffer, and the Board of Fire Commissioners is represented by his partner Ian Goldman, so I am so very positively sure that everything will go perfectly smoothly...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bruce Stern- actually doing what he was elected for.

Keeping an eye on these guys said...

It's time to dump Adam Pfeffer from the Lakewood Utilities Authority and his partner Ian Goldman from the Board of Fire Commissioners. These guys are involved in way too much collusion that only benefits their developer clients and hurts our residents.

We need real professionals that advise and influence our officials (elected and appointed) in a manner which doesn't constantly involve their conflicts of interest.

We're sick and tired of the corrupt status quo.

Common sense said...

Not blinded, you missed one important piece of the puzzle why there would definitely not be any interference by the fire Commissioners. Adam Pfeffer not only has his partner there as the attorney for the fire Commissioners, his brother is Harrison Pfeffer and a voting member of the fire Commissioners as well. Nothing to see here with a conflict of interest. Move along, it's the swamp.

BTW, Harrison Pfeffer is listed on the Lakewood Shade Tree Commission as well. Submissions to the Planning/Zoning boards generally need to go through the Shade Tree Commission's review process. This is to basically see if there are enough tress and greens in plans which one would be requesting approval for. Ever heard of any issues or recommendations from the Shade Tree Commission on any applications for approvals at Planning or Zoning boards? 🤔

Everything is working smoothly, as it was intended to be. Shhhhhh 🤫

Anonymous said...

Bruce Stern wasn't elected to anything. He was appointed to this board. He is running to be elected to the Township Committee though.