Lakewood Township's Zoning Board on Monday night formally denied an application for a new 14 duplex structure development (28 homes plus basement apartments) on the north side of Route 70 between New Hampshire Avenue and Vermont Avenue.

The application is Appeal #4260, submitted by Jacob Lipshitz of Chestnut Equity, LLC. Attorney Miriam Weinstein Esq. and Engineer Brian Flannery represented the application.

The currently wooded 4.62 acres tract is located in the Township's B-5 zoning district which only allows multifamily development for age-restricted or mixed uses, but not duplexes with no age-restriction.

Therefore the application required a Use Variance from the Zoning Board to construct duplexes.

According to the traffic study conducted in September 2022 by Traffic Experts McDonough & Rea Associates Inc., this section of Route 70 westbound carries 1,065 vehicles during the 8-9am morning peak hour, and 1,465 vehicles during the 5-6pm afternoon peak hour. 

An approval of this Use Variance application could have added an additional 100 cars to this corridor, where a teenager was recently struck and killed while attempting to cross Route 70.

Aaron Hirsch - who is running against Harrison Pfeffer who is seeking reelection for membership on the Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners - spoke up in strong opposition to the application, urging "the safety of Lakewood children should be our priority over development."

This formal denial comes after 3 hearings on the application.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in November 2022 the Board rejected an earlier version of this application which did not include a shul or playground.

Board Attorney Jerry Dasti Esq. noted that the Site Plans indicate three separate footprints and configurations for the duplex units, however, only one floor design has been submitted. Additionally, this single floor design only matches the depicted building footprint in width, but not in the building depth and the offset between the halves.

Board Member Judah Ribiat added that the basement floor plans appears to include 2 separate apartments (while the Township ordinance only permits one separate apartment) as there is one exterior door leading to a "guest room" and "kitchenette" on one side of the basement and a second exterior door on the other side of the basement leading to an additional kitchen, dining room and 3 bedrooms.

Mr. Flannery attempted to respond that "there will be only one separate apartment in the basement. The guest room and kitchenette area of the basement will be retained for use by the upstairs guy."

Board Member Moish Ingber retorted that "there are no interior stairs directly from the main unit to this 'retained for upstairs space' so it looks like it will be 2 apartments."

In response, Mrs. Weinstein agreed to revise the plans to show that there will be only one exterior entrance to permit only one apartment in the basement.

Board Member Meir Gelley asked for a shul. Board Member Avraham Naftali asked for a playground. The Board members noted that the closest shul would require walking across Route 70 and that should be discouraged at all costs. Mr. Dasti stated that "this is a closed development, so it should have its own shul."

Mrs. Weinstein offered to dedicate a basement for a shul.

Board members said that this offer isn't sufficient for this amount of families and that they can't approve an application of this scope without a proper shul.

Mr. Flannery and Mrs. Weinstein agreed to carry the application and only return once they have "a more palpable application."

In the interim, as first reported here on FAA News, the Planning Board reinterpreted the Township's open space requirement which requires not less than 5% of land area of every application consisting of 25 or more units shall be preserved as common open space or shall be dedicated to active recreational or community facilities.

The Board reinterpreted this Ordinance to count dwellings and finished basements as separate units.

Accordingly, Board Engineer Terry Vogt noted that this application may not comply with the "new and improved" interpretation of the Open Space ordinance.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the application was revised. However, instead of providing a "proper shul," as the Board directed, they provided a shul across the basements of two attached units.

Additionally, the lot lines would be modified to provide a "play area" in the rear yard of the homes with the shul. A concrete walkway from the road to the play area was depicted.

Curiously, the architectural plans attempted to rename the basement apartments into media and arts and crafts rooms (apparently because they think that they only need to provide parking for actual "bedrooms").

As previously reported here on FAA News, at the public hearing in June 2023, Chestnut Street area resident Aaron Hirsch spoke up in opposition to the application, noting that the Board previously denied an application to permit an application with potential for lots of children off Locust Street, and here on Route 70 it is even more dangerous for lots of children.

Mr. Hirsch added that while the Master Plan did recommend amending the zoning ordinances to permit high density housing along some portions of Route 70, that is only once all major roadways in Lakewood are sufficiently widened to provide for better traffic flow; whereas now the zoning ordinance permits allows multifamily development for age-restricted and this is a lot more appropriate at this site.

Mr. Hirsch also noted that this application does not provide any overflow parking.

Board Chairman Abe Halberstam agreed, saying that he was mostly concerned with the proposed development's proximity to Route 70. He noted that he is specifically concerned that the proposed playground is facing Route 70 and it that is very unsafe.

Mr. Flannery responded that they will install a fence around the playground.

Board members continued to hem and haw that the playground location is simply unsafe.

Mr. Flannery offered to provide a guide rail around the playground.

Mr. Flannery confidently assured the Board that residential development along Route 70 makes sense as this will "not add traffic to local roads such as Chestnut Street."

Chairman Halberstam just wasn't having any of it.

"Route 70 is a business district with hotels, office buildings, retail shopping centers, and gas stations. I didn't hear enough compelling testimony to grant a Use Variance to deviate this from a ratable commercial use to a residential one. Lakewood is growing and we need more commercial uses," he stated.

Mr. Flannery responded, "this property has been on the market for a long time and no developer has been interested in developing commercial here."

Board Member Avraham Naftali disagreed with Chairman Halberstam, saying "I like this application because the development is self contained, but it needs more parking."

Board Member Moish Lankry agreed that this application needs more parking.

As Chairman Halberstam attempted to bring the application to a vote, which likely would have resulted in a denial of the application, Mrs. Weinstein rushed to request to table the application so they could redesign the application to address moving the playground further away from Route 70 and providing more parking for the shul.

Mr. Dasti suggested that they eliminate some housing units to address the Board's concerns.

The Board agreed to table the application to permit the developer to again revise the application to make it more palpable to the Board.

The application now returned to the Board for yet a third time.

The revised plans did not eliminate any housing units. Additionally, it still only provided a shul across two basements, however 6 off-street parking spaces were added for the shul and playground.

The plans provided an 8,112 sq foot community park, with a perimeter fence around this park, and an 8-foot-wide concrete walkway to the new park area from the street.

The proposed play area and pathway were to be maintained via an HOA, and that an access easement would be provided. Board Engineer Terry Vogt noted that it appears that the new park area would fulfill the Township's 5% open space requirement.

Aaron Hirsch - who as first reported here on FAA News, is running against Harrison Pfeffer who is seeking reelection for membership on the Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners - again spoke up in strong opposition to the application.

Mr. Hirsch cited the Township's 2017 Master Plan which "discourages the construction of new residential development fronting state, county, and major local roadways."

Mr. Hirsch reiterated that the Board previously denied to lift an age-restriction to permit a housing development with children on Locust Street, so surely the Board should deny a housing development with children on Route 70.

"The safety of Lakewood children should be our priority over development," urged Mr. Hirsch.

Mr. Flannery attempted to assure the Board that this application "will not impact traffic on Chestnut Street." Chairman Halberstam responded, "that's because you can't get even get on to Chestnut Street!"

Mr. Lankry offered a motion to approve the application with the condition that they provide a 25 foot rear yard minimum setback instead of the 15 foot they requested, keep as many trees along Route 70 as possible, and provide a 6 foot high chain link fence for the safety of the children.

After no board member offered a second to the motion, the motion died.

Mr. Gelley then offered a motion to deny the application, saying that this is a good location for commercial ratables such as self storage, but not for a residential neighborhood.

Mr. Gartenhaus offered a second to the motion.

The motion to deny passed with a 5-2 vote. Chairman Halberstam and Mr. Lankry voted against denying the application.

Before signing off, it's important to reiterate that, as previously reported here on FAA News, numerous times throughout the public hearings on this application, Mrs. Weinstein and Mr. Flannery misrepresented the Master Plan's recommendations.

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Anonymous said...

So no one other than Jews will lived there? Isn’t that discriminatory? Why not have a Christian church too for the Christian’s that move in??

ab said...

Why is it ok for Belz and Viznitz to build along Rt 70? Like everything else in front of this board, it's always about who you know. There is no common standard that is equally applied to everyone.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that this developer submitted one arrogant deceptive greedy creep application too many? On another of his applications planning board chose to adopt a unit definition to the detriment of all developers. Now its a court fight where the slippery arts and crafts may not work and he just hurts all with his stubborn ego.

Honest Developer said...

Here's my take:

This Mr. Lipschitz has made quite an infamous name for himself. His deceptive tactics are an embarrassment to those of us in the industry who try our best to act with integrity. It's bad apples like him that ruin things for everyone else. He should be called out for who he is and his greedy applications should be denied with prejudice. Let him try pulling his shtick in any other town and he'll never even get past first base.

If only there was a way to throw someone like him out of this business, our town would be better served.