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After yet another court hearing in Lake Terrace's ongoing legal saga, Ocean County Superior Court Assignment Judge Francis Hodgson ruled that Lake Terrace can continue to host weddings pending the outcome of their Zoning Board appeal.

Previously ordered interim Court Orders prohibiting on-street parking will remain place.

Lake Terrace has been embattled in litigation since November 2020 when their industrial neighbor Clayton Associates, and their property owner Sudler, represented by Attorney Rob Shea Esq., filed a lawsuit against them for not having ever received Township Zoning Board approval for a banquet hall.

After an initial injunction hearing on the matter, on February 3, 2021, former Ocean County Superior Court Assignment Judge Marlene Ford signed an Interim Order permitting Lake Terrace - pending the outcome of the lawsuit - to continue hosting weddings, but with certain restrictions including limiting the occupancy to 712 seated guests, barring any outdoor activities or events on the banquet hall property, and requiring all parking to be maintained on-site only.

Judge Ford signed this Order as a interim compromise to permit Lake Terrace to continue operating while the lawsuit continues, but with restraints.

At subsequent hearings, Judge Ford added additional conditions including that no further outdoor events or gatherings of any sort at all take place outdoors within 1,000 feet of Lake Terrace and that they must hire "uniformed security guards, who are current or former law enforcement officers, employed by a professional businesses that provide traffic control or is otherwise experienced in traffic control" to enforce the parking restrictions.

At one point Judge Ford asked, "if there are no more than 700 people at the events and there are 379 parking spaces, and it's 2 people per car, why is the parking lot not sufficient?"

Mr. Fiorovanti innocently responded "I do not know."

Judge Ford retorted, "if the real plans for this use were ever presented before the proper land use board, the Board probably would have required additional parking.".Judge Ford then reiterated "parking on-street is prohibited. Parking can only be in their parking lot. If there is not enough parking in their own lot, maybe they should bus in the guests."

Judge Ford has previously warned that her permitting Lake Terrace to continue to operate with certain conditions was a "compromise" and that the owners of Lake Terrace have reciprocated by acting in "the ultimate lack of good faith" and therefore she is "one second away from revoking their Certificate of Occupancy" (which would shut them down completely).

As previously reported here on FAA News, at one motion hearing, Judge Ford found Lake Terrace in violation of the court orders and ordered them to pay a $5,000 sanction as well as legal fees incurred by Clayton as a result of filing their motion.

Since that time, Lake Terrace has finally submitted an application to the Township's Zoning Board for a Use Variance to permit them to operate legally. However, their hearing has been cancelled numerous times due to legal objections raised by Sudler regarding the Board meeting notices.

As such, seeing that they may never actually get to a public hearing, back in February 2023, as previously reported here on FAA News, Lake Terrace filed a Motion for Reconsideration, arguing that their court orders, including sanctions and award of legal fees, should be stayed withdrawn or stayed pending the outcome of the Zoning Board hearing.

In response, as previously reported here on FAA News, Sudler shot back by slamming Lake Terrace with a Cross-Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights, seeking to completely shut down the banquet hall for numerous violations of their interim court orders.

The Cross-Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights alleged that at a number of recent weddings held at Lake Terrace, numerous patrons were parked along the adjacent roadways and in adjacent parking lots including the Plaintiff's parking lots - all in violation of the court orders.

They further alleged that not only did the LCSW members - who are tasked with enforcing the parking restrictions - not stop patrons from parking as they please, they even directed patrons to park in other parking lots including Bnos Brocha's lot.

Ultimately, as previously reported here on FAA News, following a hearing in March, Judge Hodgson denied Lake Terrace's Motion for Reconsideration, saying that "the court is satisfied that there is no basis to reconsider Judge Ford's earlier rulings as they were laid out clearly with sustainable reasons."

At the same time, Judge Hodgson denied Sudler's Cross-Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights - which sought to completely shut down Lake Terrace until if, and when, they receive a Use Variance from the Township's Zoning Board - noting that Lake Terrace's attorney Matthew Fiorovanti Esq. asserted that the violations were not "willful."

Judge Hodgson added that, being that Judge Ford previously granted a Stay on the litigation on the basis that Lake Terrace does have a pending Zoning Board application, he will now concur and Stay enforcement of the interim restraints for 60 days, pending outcome of the Zoning Board application.

At a Status Conference held on the matter on May 12, 2023, Judge Hodgson granted Mr. Shea's request to lift the stay and permit the reinstatement of their Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights as well as to supplement it with further violations.

As such, as previously reported here on FAA News, Mr. Shea filed a new Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights. This is the Plaintiffs 5th Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights.

The Motion alleges that at a number of recent events held at Lake Terrace, numerous patrons were parked along the adjacent roadways and in adjacent parking lots including the Plaintiff's parking lots - all in violation of the previous court orders.

Specifically, at events held on January 11, 16 and 18, 2023, large events were held at the property which filled the parking lot to capacity. Patrons parked in Plaintiffs’ parking lots and along the adjacent streets. Furthermore, security on site directed cars to Bnos Brocha's parking lot, despite the lack of approval to use the school's property as a parking lot, and despite that the conditions imposed by the Court's February 3, 2021 Order stipulate that all parking should be contained on site.

On March 27, 2023, another large event was held at Lake Terrace. Once all of the parking spaces within the parking lot were filled up, cars began parking in the property's grass area to the rear of the property, where the retention basin is located, and in the accessway from Oak Street. Cars also filled the entire grass buffer area between Paco Way and the property's parking lot. Cars parked all the way to the curb line, thus rendering the setback from the street non-existent. By 10:30pm, an entire line of cars was also parked on the street along Paco Way.

On April 5, 2023, Plaintiff sent a letter Township Attorney Jean Cipriani Esq., notifying the Township of these event. The letter explicitly stated that violations of the Court's Orders were taking place as a result of the street parking and the parking in Bnos Brocha's lot which was allowed to take place. The letter further pointed out that under the Orders, the Township is obligated to respond to complaints of such violations. Finally, the letter stated alerted the Township to the violations of the Township's code resulting from patrons parking in the setbacks, buffers, accessways, as well as on the streets. This letter was copied to Lake Terrace's attorney as well. Neither party responded.

Also on April 5, 2023, Plaintiff sent a letter to the Lakewood Police Department, alerting them of the same violations. The letter explicitly stressed the unsafe conditions created by Defendant's disregard for any parking restrictions. The police department did not respond to this letter which contained photographic evidence.

On April 17, 2023, another large event was held at Lake Terrace. The property's parking lot was filled to capacity. Cars were also parked on the grass, as well as in the Oak Street accessway. Cars were also parked in all available space on the property, including the buffers, setbacks, accessways, and the grass area near the retention basin.

At one point, individuals were observed parking in one of the Plaintiffs parking lots and then walking to Lake Terrace.

Patrons were still arriving as late as 10:16, when a line of cars formed and backed up traffic from Paco Way and around the corner on to Oak Street. At 11:00pm, a van was observed parking on the lawn of one of the Plaintiffs parking lots while picking up passengers from the banquet hall.

On May 1, 2023, Plaintiffs sent yet another letter to Township Attorney Cipriani, detailing the April 17 event, and alerting her that the parking violations not only violate the spirit and intent of Judge Ford's orders, but also constitutes a serious health and safety hazard. This letter was also ignored by the Township.

On May 23, 2023, yet another large event was held at Lake Terrace. Once again, cars were parked in the setbacks directly against the curb line of Paco Way, thus rendering the property's buffer with the Paco Way right of way non-existent. The rear landscaped area directly adjacent to Bnos Brocha, and located near the banquet hall's drainage basin, was again filled with cars.

Patrons were also observed parking along both sides of Corporate Road West, Towbin Avenue, and Oak Street and then walking to the banquet hall. In fact, even more patrons were observed parking approximately 1.4 miles west of Lake Terrace in Ne'emas Hachaim hall. Over 100 vehicles were observed parking in the Ne'emas Hachaim hall parking lot. Patrons were then transported by a school bus to Lake Terrace.

The Defendants have been well aware of the Court's restriction for the past 2 years, and despite the issuance of two separate Orders Enforcing Litigants Rights, remain unwilling to abide by them. These violations represent the most recent flagrant and intentional failure of Lake Terrace to follow the dictates of the Court. This conduct represents a constant pattern of total disrespect for this Court and its neighbors. The goal of making money has completely overriden any sense of decency that the owners possess regarding the impact they create to other property owners.

Nothing within the Court's previous Orders suggests that limiting the parking to Defendant's 350-space parking lot allowed them free-reign to park cars on every inch of available space. Moreover, the property is limited to 714 patrons. It is nothing short of bewildering how the 350-space lot is consistently filled to capacity despite this limitation. Even more bewildering is how all the cars parked all over the accessways, drainage basins, fire lanes, etc, can all be filled with less than 714 patrons. As such, it does not appear possible that Defendants are complying with the 714-patron limit as Ordered by the Court.

The property currently has no Zoning Board approvals to operate as a banquet hall, as acknowledged repeatedly by the Court. As such, the Court's decision to impose restrictions on their operation, rather than institute a full shutdown of the Property, constitutes a more than generous temporary arrangement, which Defendants deliberately choose to ignore in the name of profit.

Plaintiffs have repeatedly implored the Township, including the police department, to take action to enforce the Township's zoning ordinances. The Township has not given any response at all, not even through their attorney. At no time in the past 3 years has the Township sent any representative to investigate Plaintiffs claims or to issue any form of violation or other enforcement mechanism. While this may seem shocking to some, given the glaring nature of the violations, this is little more than the routine pattern the municipality has shown for its duties.

There is absolutely no question that the property is operating in clear and open violation. Aside from the Township's obvious ministerial duties, the Township has an additional obligation under Judge Ford's Orders to investigate complaints of illegal parking.

Though it is unclear what interest is preventing the Township from enforcing its own ordinances, it is evident from the lack of response that the Township has absolutely no intention of performing its duties under its ordinances or Judge Ford's Orders.

Under the guise of remaining neutral, the Township, for reasons that Plaintiff can only guess at, have elected to side with an illegal business operating well outside the scope of its approval.

As the Township has failed abysmally at every turn to do what a Township is obligated to do, the Plaintiffs have no recourse at this point than to once again turn to the Court for enforcement.

As a result of the Township's failure to respond to any of the Plaintiffs concerns, as mandated by the Township ordinance and the Court Order, the Court should find the Township in violation of litigants rights. Furthermore, the Court should institute an immediate shutdown of the banquet hall property until such time as it receives all requisite, non-appealable approvals.

Township Attorney Jean Cipriani Esq. - using taxpayer funded dollars - filed Opposition to the motion, saying:

The Plaintiff’s current motion seems to suggest that the Township violated the August 26, 2022 Order by not issuing KBS a violation notice upon the Plaintiff’s request. The August 26, 2022 Order imposes a duty on the Township to investigate complaints related to parking on the Property. It does not require the Township to issue violation notices to KBS at the Plaintiff’s request.

As previously reported here on FAA News, Attorney Matthew Fiorovanti Esq. representing Lake Terrace, filed a Cross-Motion, asking the court to reinstate a Stay on the litigation, and enforcement of the previous orders, as the Zoning Board application remains active and pending.

At a tense hearing held on Friday, Judge Hodgson granted Lake Terrace's Cross-Motion, saying that they are currently seeking a Use Variance from the Zoning Board, and all proceedings to enforce the court orders can be brought during a "3 day long trial with all sorts of witnesses" - but only after the Zoning Board first has the opportunity to vote on the application.

Additionally, Judge Hodgson ruled that the parking restrictions imposed by Judge Ford (which limited parking to "on-site only"), will be modified to additionally permit any parking with which they contract.

As the Township is named a Defendant in this lawsuit, Lakewood taxpayers continue to fund the Township's legal fees in this ongoing legal saga.

The Zoning Board's next scheduled public hearing on Lake Terrace's Use Variance appeal will be held next Monday, July 10.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting to see if the conflicted Mordy Gross will make a surprise appearance, especially given that he hasn't participated in over a year. Can't wait for it to get lebedik at the ethics comiittee..