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FULL HOUSE REGARDING MENACHEM GUTFREUND'S SPRUCE STREET APPLICATION. ZONING BOARD TO CONTINUE HEARING NEXT MONTH.


The Lakewood Zoning Board heard one hour of testimony on developer Menachem Gutfreund's Appeal # 4281 which seeks to construct 6 single family lots where only 1.5 homes are permitted.


Seeing that numerous more neighbors wanted to speak up regarding the application, the Board adjourned the hearing to next month when they will have more time to dedicate to the application.


Mr. Gutfreund's development hopes have spanned several years, both of Lakewood's land use boards, and multiple litigation in Superior Court. Yet, he is not backing down now. The neighbors are wondering "how much longer?"


The saga began back in January 2019 when Mr. Gutfreund submitted an application to the Zoning Board for 6 homes on one lot, and 4 homes on the other lot. The Township's zoning ordinances permit only 2 single family homes in this zone.


Numerous neighbors flocked to the Board's public hearing to plead with the Board to deny the requested Use Variance.


Board member Obed Gonzales worked very hard to approve the application, so much so that when Abby Hirsch, a neighbor who was opposed to the application, stated that Mr. Gonzales should recuse himself as he had just started working for a company which was under Mr. Hirsch's control, Mr. Gonzales immediately announced that he is resigning from working for that company!


The Zoning Board ultimately denied that application.


In October 2019, Mr. Gutfreund submitted a "much reduced application" for only 9 homes on these lots. Immediately, the neighbors retained Teaneck Attorney Jan Meyer Esq. to file emergent legal action in Chancery Court objecting to the Board’s hearing the Second Application because, inter alia, of a conflict of interest involving Chairman Abe Halberstam and Mr. Gutfreund.


Specifically, a corporation owned, operated and/or controlled by Mr. Gutfreund was, at the time, constructing a home for Chairman Halberstam’s children!


Subsequently, Mr. Gutfreund met with the neighbors and he agreed to withdraw the Second Application. 


Thereafter, in 2020, Mr. Gutfreund returned with a revised application to construct 6 single family homes on only one of the lots, Block 837 Lot 1. This is a 60,000 sq foot lot so 1.09 homes would be permitted on that lot.


The neighbors were represented by Attorney Meyer who opposed the application and asked for a minor adjournment of the hearing so he could bring an expert to testify regarding the application.


The Board ignored this request, and approved a reduced plan of 4 single family homes on 15,000 sq foot lots each.


Due to his conflict with Mr. Gutfreund which was previously exposed in Chancery Court, Mr. Halberstam was not present at that application.


Subsequently, on December 8, 2020, Mr. Meyer filed a Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writs seeking to overturn the Board's approval. The four-count lawsuit included a charge that the Board violated the statutory requirements of notice and availability of documents set forth in the Emergency Remote Meeting Protocol for Local Public Bodies.


In January 2022, Judge Ford granted summary judgement to the neighbors and tossed out the Board's approval.


In February 2023, as first reported here on FAA News, Mr. Gutfreund again charged on with his development dreams for his property, with an application to the Planning Board for a 2-story plus finished basement child care center, with a capacity of 350 children. This application is for Block 837 Lot 1, which is the site of the 2020 overturned Zoning Board approval.


Child care centers are a permitted use in the zone and therefore don't require a Use Variance from the Zoning Board, however, the Township does not have a set parking requirement for child care centers, which gives the neighbors leeway to oppose the application.


As soon as the neighbors received notice of the application, they retained Attorney Meyer to represent their opposition.


As previously reported here on FAA News back in April, Attorney Matthew Fiorovanti Esq. representing Mr. Gutfreund requested that the child care center application be adjourned until further notice.


This application has not been brought back to the Board in the time since then.


However, relief was short lived, because, back in May, as previously reported here on FAA News, Mr. Gutfreund submitted an application to the Zoning Board for a Use Variance for 6 single family homes on Block 831 Lot 1, which is across from the proposed child care center lot.


The application was finally presented at tonight's public hearing.


A large of group of neighbors were in attendance.


Elliot Zaks, a neighbor of the application site, and a client of Mr. Meyer, told the Board that Mr. Gutfreund convinced the Lakewood Commons neighbors to support his application using the threat that if they stop him from building houses, he will charge on with his child care center application instead and that will be much worse for them.




Rabbi Aryeh Sherwinter, Rav of the Lakewood Commons shul, testified that they are not opposing development of homes per se because more affordable housing is needed and welcome, however, they are concerned with the proposed driveways on Washington Avenue.




Abby Hirsch, another neighbor, stated that the neighbors who are supposedly "supporting the application" have never come out to the Zoning Board to support housing, this is because they are only there to stop the "worse child care center."


"It's also odd that Rabbi Sherwinter lauded this as affordable housing opportunities as these houses will definitely not be affordable," highlighted Mr. Hirsch.


Mr. Hirsch added that Mr. Gutfreund was in talks with Township officials regarding the possibility of the Township swapping land so that the Spruce Street property can remain open space, and possibly even one day turned into a public playground, and these talks have only faltered due to Mr. Gutfreund's unwillingness to continue said talks.


"What we really need is more time to allow such a proposal become a reality, and Mr. Gutfreund is now trying to push through this application specifically to block our hopes of allowing this property to remain open space," Mr. Hirsch added.


Ultimately, after an hour of testimony, and seeing still more neighbors who wanted to speak on the application, the Board carried the application to next month's hearing.


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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The applicant is known throughout Lakewood to have split hooves who also doesn’t chew his cud.

Anonymous said...

Greedy Gut-less-freund is being greedy simply because he believes he can!

He needs to be put squarely in his place!

Anonymous said...

Greedy Gutfreund behaves just like a Gangster!