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DISTURBING: ATTORNEY REPRESENTING THE CLUELESS BOARD OF FIRE COMMISSIONERS APPEARS TO BE SECRETLY REPRESENTING THE DEVELOPERS


Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq. represents developers before Lakewood's Planning and Zoning Boards. (Curiously, he is also the attorney representing the Lakewood Township Municipal Utilities Authority which reviews the applications that he just got approved at the Planning and Zoning Boards...)


His law firm partner, Attorney Ian Goldman Esq. is the attorney representing the Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners.


Sounds completely unrelated. Right?


Wrong.


Actually, very wrong.




At this week's Board of Fire Commissioners meeting, BOFC Vice Chairman Larry Loigman brought up the topic of land use board applications and opined that the fire district needed to seriously "up their game" regarding their reviews of the land use board applications.


Mr. Loigman also stated that currently the fire district only receives Planning Board applications and not Zoning Board applications, and he would also like to receive Zoning Board applications.


Every Site Plan application that is submitted to the Planning Board gets forwarded to the Fire District for their review. According to the Planning Board, the Fire District is considered an "outside agency" which means that their approval is required before the Planning Board will allow any construction to actually occur.


However, instead of addressing this task appropriately, the Board of Fire Commissioners adopted their own Resolution which asserts that "The Fire Department’s review is a more pragmatic approach and the recommendations are given on a case by case basis to assure an efficient and effective delivery of fire suppression... Their review is couched in terms of recommendations. The Boards have the final judgment as to the requirements taking into consideration the Fire Department’s consult... The technical requirements remain the prerogative of the individual Board and its professionals, as well as the professionals of the applicant."


Harrison Pfeffer (yup! Adam's brother!) stated that they were fully in compliance with 1997 guidance from the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs.


This guidance states that a Planning Board should not tell a developer, "we approve your application, but with a condition that you now review your application with the fire department and that you adhere to any of their concerns." Instead, the fire department should review the application before the Planning Board's hearing and should submit a report to the Planning Board which should be "treated in the same manner as the review and report of the board engineer and planner," and additionally, it "must be submitted to the board as part of the public hearing record on the application."


I.e. The Planning Board should review the fire department's report before they approve the application.


The guidance provides specific examples of what a fire department should review:


The arrangement of streets, parking areas, and fire lanes -- as well as the size and location of water mains, and the number and locations of fire hydrants -- are determined by the approved site plans. This is why the boards consult with the fire department... The New Jersey Uniform Fire Code (UFC) authorizes the fire official to designate fire lanes for existing installations. Fire lanes for new construction, if required, should be designated on the plans approved by the planning or zoning board. All provisions of the UFC apply to existing properties and are not applicable to projects under development. Many fire protection infrastructure matters are now subject to the Residential Site Improvement Standards.


Larger developments may require coordination of the construction of certain site improvements with actual building construction. There may be a need to specify that adequate water for firefighting purposes, or some form of road surface to provide site access for firefighting equipment, exists before actual building construction begins or progresses too far.


Chief Jonathan Yahr stated that it would be better if the developers first presented their plan to the Planning Board, got their stamp of approval and then come to the fire department. This way, "they hash it out fully before coming to us with their final plan."


Mr. Loigman pressed on that, "we need to know the impact of these applications on the fire service, especially when you combine many applications in one neighborhood.


"I know that DCA permits us to do a low level review. That is simply because the construction codes were all lobbied by the developers. However, even if the law does not prohibit our input, it also does not restrict our input. We have a responsibility to do a much bigger review. For example, we should ask them to pay for a fire protection study from an expert that should be reviewed by our chief.


"Additionally, we need to ensure we discuss the fiscal impact of development approvals. Even if the Boards don't listen to us, we still need to do our best," Mr. Loigman urged.


Mr. Pfeffer pushed back, saying, "the costs that you want to get shifted to the applicant may not even be legal. How do you require them to give them certain information that they are not required to give us?"


Chief Yahr chimed in, saying, "as I've stated before, the Township Committee govern this town. It's not our place to try to stop them for any reason. Our job is simply to figure out how to provide sufficient fire service for however the Township Committee chooses to permit the Township to continue to grow.


"In regards to our review of Planning Board applications, we do not look at building construction plans as the Township does employ a fire sub-code official and building layout is his responsibility. Our review is more pragmatic to ensure space around the building and sufficient hydrants and access to the driveways."


At this point, Mr. Goldman nodded his head and said, "correct."


Mr. Loigman pressed back, saying, "our review actually is very important. In several lawsuits against the Planning Board, the courts have said that the fire approval is "law." Your checkmark has been portrayed as an approval for fire safety, and I don't think that's accurate. If we will be used in that fashion, I think we should have more input."


Chief Yahr read the fire district's standard review page and the checklist on it, and said, "this is all we are reviewing."


Mr. Pfeffer added, "as to your interpretation that our review is being shown in court, our review will include our checklist."


Ok...


Firstly, unfortunately for Chief Yahr, despite that he feels that having the developers send their plans to the fire district "after the Planning Board has already hashed it all out," the very DCA guidance that Harrison Pfeffer cited states that the exact opposite must be done - the Planning Board must review the fire district's review "as part of their review of the application."


More importantly, it's absolutely shocking that Mr. Goldman - Adam Pfeffer's partner - was agreeing with Chief Yahr that the fire district's review is "a more pragmatic approach couched in terms of recommendations" (as the fire district's resolution states it is), as previously reported here and here on FAA News, Ocean County Superior Court Assignment Judge Francis Hodgson has made it crystal clear that once the fire district approves an application, if it is variance free, the Planning Board does NOT have any latitude to deny the application due to safety concerns or to require a wider cul-de-sac!


Judge Hodgson has certainly made it clear that he does not agree that the fire district's review is "a more pragmatic approach couched in terms of recommendations!"


Any attorney representing the Board of Fire Commissioners who agrees that the fire district's review is "a more pragmatic approach couched in terms of recommendations" is absolutely incorrect. However, the fact that the attorney representing the Board of Fire Commissioners just so happens to be the partner of Adam Pfeffer, who successfully argued before Judge Hodgson that "as the fire district approved the application, the Planning Board has no authority to deny the application due to fire safety concerns" absolutely boggles the mind!


It's as if Ian Goldman - whose salary is paid by the taxpayers and who is supposed to be representing the people - is actually representing the developers, as by telling the fire district that they can just keep their eyes closed and approve everything because anyways their approval doesn't mean anything, he is actually supporting the developers and his partner's arguments in court on their behalf!!


Another major issue is that many times the Board of Fire Commissioners does not even submit any review to the Planning Board.


As previously reported here on FAA News, back in June 2023, the Planning Board was reviewing a contentious application for an office building on Prospect Street.


Board Engineer Dave Mangos expressed concerns that "fire trucks have not been considered on the Traffic Circulation Plan for the new layout," explaining that "while fire trucks may be able to get into the driveway in an emergency, they can not circulate throughout the parking lot."


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


Chairman Moshe 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.


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."


Chairman Moshe 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.


A review of numerous applications that the Board approved over the past few months indicates that the fire district did not submit reviews for most of them.


So... We need reviews from the fire district. Accurate reviews, noting any safety concerns they may have. Not "a more pragmatic approach couched in terms of recommendations."


Got that??


It may be high time to put the sheep out to pasture.


With one single vote we can get rid of both Harrison Pfeffer and Ian Goldman!


As first reported here on FAA News, Aaron Hirsch is officially in the race against Harrison Pfeffer who is seeking reelection to his seat on the Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners!




Aaron Hirsch is currently very active at the local land use boards, speaking in support of traffic and pedestrian safety, and in vehement opposition to continued overdevelopment which leads to traffic congestion and higher taxes.


According to their mission statement:


The Lakewood Fire District is committed to providing fire services with the highest degree of efficacy. This includes the delivery of fire suppression, fire prevention and fire education services while at the same time exercising sound fiscal control and budgetary restraint.


The Fire Commissioners of the Lakewood Fire District are the translators of the Fire District’s overall commitment to excellence through the establishment as well as strict adherence to high standards of performance. This sets the tone and encourages those affiliated with the Fire District to continually strive to be the best in all aspects of service delivery by meeting or exceeding the expectations of the public they serve.


This year's fire district budget, which for the first time has topped $10 million, includes a salary of $191,732 for Chief Yahr, $155,000 for Administrator Yehuda Beer, and $110,000.00 for Deputy Administrator Steven Mulholland.


A vote for Aaron Hirsch is a vote FOR transparency, honesty, and a much harder look at Site Plan applications to ensure that the Planning Board has the legal wherewithal to restrain developers from cramming in too many houses with no cul-de-sac bulb and too narrow roadways.


Election day is on Tuesday, November 7. Polls open 6am - 8pm.


If you are not yet registered to vote, you can take the first step now by registering here to vote. All it takes is one minute!


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