The task of deciding when to grant a Certificate of Occupancy for a home is a very important one.

Prior to beginning construction on a new development, developers need to agree to adhere to all construction regulations and the land use board's conditions of approval.

Prior to granting a Certificate of Occupancy, Township officials are required to do inspections to ensure that all conditions of approval are adhered to.

This is a very important task as once a Certificate of Occupancy is granted, the Township has no more holding over the developer to ensure that any conditions will be adhered to.

For example, if the Board conditioned the approval on installation of a sidewalk, the Township's assurance that the sidewalk will be constructed is that they can withhold issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy until the sidewalk is constructed. If they were to grant the Certificate of Occupancy before the sidewalk is constructed then we would lose the assurance that the sidewalk will be constructed.

This is something that the Lakewood Zoning Board needs to take into very serious consideration regarding a "correspondence item" on tonight's meeting agenda.

Back in 2012, Tilwy LLC (owned by Marshall Weissman) received Use Variance approval from Lakewood Township's Zoning Board for construction of a residential complex with 3-story apartment buildings containing a total of 94 units of which 37 were 2 bedroom units, 19 were 3 bedroom units, and 38 were 4 bedroom units. (The total number of bedrooms would be 283).

The complex location is all the way up Squankum Road at the Lakewood/ Howell Township border.

The proposed complex included a shul building and one single tot lot.

All apartments are intended to be for rentals only, with no age restriction. Basements are for storage only with no occupancy or residence.

There application included a sidewalk around the complex's private road, and along the property frontage on Squankum Road.

On September 9, 2019, represented by Attorney Gerald Klein Esq. and Engineer Brian Flannery, the developer returned to the Zoning Board and requested to modify the application to include more 3-bedroom units, and less 2-bedroom units. The new proposal was for 84-3 bedroom units and 10-2 bedroom units. Mr. Flannery extolled the virtues of the application as the number of bedrooms overall would actually be reduced by 11 to 272.

Mr. Flannery further testified that in order to accommodate the additional children who would live in the bigger apartments, they would now provide 3- 4,800 sq foot tot lots instead of the originally approved 1 tot lot, and they would build the proposed 4,000 sq foot shul "as large as they could."

The board responded that they preferred the originally approved 2-bedroom units to the now proposed 3-bedroom units as families tend to stay longer in 3-bedroom units, leading to many more older children in the complex which does not include sufficient recreational space for so many children.

A member of the public additionally pointed out that there was insufficient room for a bus to enter and turn around in the complex, which would cause the numerous children to wait for the bus on Squankum Road. Additionally, if buses need to create this stop on Squankum Road, there is no proper turn-around in the area for buses to get back to Lakewood.

Due to this concern, the Board directed the applicant to return with a revised plan.

The applicant returned on October 28, 2019 with a revised plan showing that the complex will include a turnaround at the entrance so school buses can safely enter and exit the complex without needing to traverse through the complex, and additionally the internal sidewalk will be extended to be provide a walkway and crosswalks from the internal road to the bus stop. The Board also directed the applicant to provide a bus shelter.

When the Board adopted their Resolution of Approval on November 18, 2019, the Board asked what surface will be used for the tot lots. Mr. Flannery responded " recycle rubber mulch." Board Engineer Dave Magno recommended that they use permanent safety surface instead of mulch. Mr. Flannery agreed.

The Board also stipulated a condition that three acres within the adjacent buffer zone will be dedicated for passive recreation and that the developer will install appropriate ramps to permit access to the area.

The 93 apartments would be provided with 197 off-street parking spaces, which is 5 more than the 193 off-street parking spaces required under the New Jersey Residential Site Improvements Standards.

Subsequently, as previously reported here on FAA News, back in February 2023, the developer, under the name JR Squan LLC, again represented by Attorney Gerald Klein and Engineer Brian Flannery returned to the Board for another amendment to the plan.

They represented that while marketing the rental apartments, they learned that the current rental market favors single bedroom apartments versus two bedroom apartments.

They therefore sought approval to eliminate 3 - two bedroom apartments and instead build 6 - single bedroom apartments. This would come to a total of 96 apartments.

For some unexplained reason the amended plan also included slightly reducing the size of the shul and eliminating the previously proposed mikvah.

Due to the change in classification of the apartments, under the New Jersey Residential Site Improvements Standards the project now required 197 off-street parking spaces, which was the exact number of spaces to be provided.

Chairman Abe Halberstam pushed back against the revision, noting that he was happier with the previous version which provided more parking than what was required.

Board Member Moish Lankry said he was enthusiastic about the amended plan as it means there will be less school age kids which ultimately has a reduced impact on the School District's budget.

Board Member Meir Gelley echoed these words, noting that single bedroom apartments will be "more useful and less kids."

The Board reiterated that the bus lane and benches are to remain a condition of the amended approval. The Board also reiterated their previous condition that three acres within the adjacent buffer zone will be dedicated for passive recreation and that the developer will install appropriate ramps to permit access to the area.

All board members besides for Chairman Halberstam voted in favor of the amended application, with the express condition that the developer must "make a good faith effort to locate additional parking spaces to service the project."

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in June 2023, under Appeal 37AAA, JR Squan LLC, returned to the Board seeking yet another revision to the plan - to replace the three small playgrounds with a single large playground, and to eliminate the shul completely!

Lighting design revisions were also proposed.

The previously approved plan included small playgrounds between Apartment buildings 2-3, between Apartment buildings (6-7) and behind
Apartment building 8, respectively. The newly proposed (fenced) playground would be
located west of Apartment Building 8 (where the previously-proposed shul was proposed.

This proposal would have required a reaffirmation of the previously approved Use Variance, as well as a bulk variance for rear yard setback for a proposed setback of 28.97 feet, where the ordinance requires 30 feet for this zone.

Board Chairman Abe Halberstam did not waste any time getting right to big question - "why is the approved shul being removed?"

Engineer Brian Flannery testified that "the original approval for this application goes way back. Since then we have come back to the Board with numerous revisions. Each revision was an improvement. This is also an improvement though it does look more complex. There are a number of shuls already in the area. Additionally the shul would require maintenance which the tenants would need to pay for. So we deemed the shul not needed."

Mr. Flannery added that the project designers did not like the previously proposed smaller playgrounds in between the units so they replaced it with one big playground. The only way to fit that in was to eliminate the shul.

Chairman Halberstam shot right back, "it's a chutzpah for this developer to entertain removing a shul which would be used by 200 residents in this complex. Additionally, requiring these residents to walk across Squankum Road, which is such a busy roadway, makes zero sense."

The rest of the Board agreed. Board Member Meir Gelley offered a motion to deny the application. Board Member Avraham Naftali offered a second to the deny the application. The motion passed unanimously.

Following this pushback from the Board, JR Squan LLC is once again coming back with yet another revision request.

This time it's to permit the developer to build a trailer shul temporarily while the real shul is under construction.

In essence, because the real shul remains a condition of the approval, the Township can withhold issuance of any Certificate of Occupancies until the shul is constructed. The purpose of the new request is to permit for the rental units to receive Temporary Certificate of Occupancies already now before the shul is constructed.

Application documents indicate that the footing and foundation for the shul have been poured and the underground utility installation is proceeding. The proposed trailer shul would be located over 16 existing on-site parking spaces.

To compensate for the temporary loss of parking, the developers will not request Certificate of Occupancies for more than 65 units until the real shul is constructed.

The developer is confidently assuring the Board that if this approval is granted and he gets Certificate of Occupancies for 65 units with a trailer shul, the real shul will be completed in about 6 months.


Let the buyer beware.

Haven't we heard that before??

As previously reported here on FAA News, Township officials permitted Yehuda Dachs to receive Temporary Certificates of Occupancy before constructing the required shul. There is still no shul, and the Township has lost their assurance which they had prior to deciding to grant the Certificates of Occupancy.

A similar story is going on in a number of other developments as well.

Let the buyer beware!

Of additional importance is that it appears that no legal notice of this correspondence request was sent out to the neighbors or the newspaper.

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Bad Poet said...

Who would be against the building of shuls? Such a strange crusade that you are on...

Anonymous said...

@ Bad Poet,

Actually no one is against the building of shuls - that's exactly the point here. First the developer wanted to eliminate the shul. Thankfully the Board denied that request. Now the developer wants to get away with only a trailer shul. He is claiming it will only be for 6 months, however, "we have heard that claim before."

Anonymous said...

Can the board require a bond to be put up if someone wants a CO and has yet to build a shul/sidewalk, etc?

That way the Township has leverage, he loses his bond if he doesn’t keep his word.

Simcha said...

@Anon 11:51pm

Performance bonds are required before any major construction project, and they won't be released until the terms of the bond are completed.

However, all that the Township can do is not release the bond until the terms of the bond are completed.

The Township does NOT have much "leverage" to actually force anyone to do any construction.

It's not so simple to say that "the Township has leverage, he loses his bond if he doesn’t keep his word" because drawing on a performance bond is a costly and timely task, one which the Township rarely does.

By way of example, Yeshiva Tiferes Chaim gave the LTMUA a $165,000 bond to permit them to open up the yeshiva by hooking up into the existing lateral that was there as part of the little office building, along with a solemn assurance that they would complete their sewer work within 6 months. The MUA needed to take them to court - 7 years later - for breach of contract.

So, saying "the Township has leverage, he loses his bond if he doesn’t keep his word" is not at all a simple matter.