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JUST IN: MENACHEM GUTFREUND IS BACK TO SEEKING APPROVAL FOR HOUSES ON SPRUCE STREET. ATTORNEY JAN MEYER IS REPRESENTING NEIGHBORS OPPOSED TO THE APPLICATION.




Lakewood developer Menachem Gutfreund says he is returning to the Zoning Board this coming Monday night, seeking to revive Appeal # 4281 which seeks to construct 6 single family lots where only 1.5 homes are permitted.


Previously, at the neighbors urging, Township officials were in talks with Mr. Gutfreund to possibly swap land with him so this property could remain for open space. However, it appears now that talks have again faltered.


The neighbors have retained Teaneck Attorney Jan Meyer Esq. to oppose the application.


Mr. Meyer just submitted a letter to the Board listing 5 arguments against 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 Attorney Meyer 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.


Subsequently, some discussion began with Township officials regarding the possibility of the Township swapping land with Mr. Gutfreund so that the Spruce Street property can remain open space, and possibly even one day turned into a public playground.


Due to these pending discussions, 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.


After neighbors retained Mr. Meyer to oppose this application, at the Board's previous public hearing on July 10, Mr. Gutfreund adjourned the application.


Despite not having served the neighbors with legal notice, Mr. Gutfreund has gotten his application posted on the Board's agenda for Monday night's meeting.


The neighbors, who are unhappy with the continuous battles with Mr. Gutfreund, are hopeful that Township officials will cooperate and enable this Spruce Street property to remain open space, and possibly even one day turned into a public playground.


However, in the meantime, the neighbors have retained Mr. Meyer to go full force in opposition to the application.


Mr. Meyer submitted a letter to the Board, presenting a number of arguments in opposition to the application.


The opposition includes that repeating this application again, (for the third time) "is nothing other than both res judicata and collateral estoppel. The matter should be precluded from being heard before the Board."


Mr. Meyer is also opposing the bifurcation of the application.


"Bifurcation is not a right on an applicant. See Scholastic v Zoning Board of Fair Lawn 326 N.J. Super 49 (1999) as cited in many cases. Why are we wasting time to hear the matter again should the board grant any variance to this applicant, especially given the Board’s very busy schedule. It is very much contrary to judicial economy and unfair to both the Board members and the citizens of Lakewood.


"The property requires, due to its topographical condition, not only retaining walls but also a drainage system that according to other plans file before Lakewood land use boards (and our engineering study) seem to indicate that it would occupy approximately one or two of the requested or proposed divided lots. It is also difficult to assess the traffic and safety impact when actual proposed final drawings are not presented especially given the challenges as mention above. The grant of a use variance requires "detailed factual findings” by the Board See Price v OZ holdings, 219 NJ Super Unpub. Lexis 1177 (2019), and to avoid confusion since variances sought herein and the site plan are so interrelated that they should be considered together, House of Fire v Zoning Bd of Adjustment of Clifton 379 N.J. Super 526 (2005)."


The letter adds, "for good housekeeping purposes, please note that as in the past, the Chairman, Mr. Abraham Halberstam must be recused from hearing this application. The reason for this request and demand is due to what appear to be a clear conflict of interest. I refer you to my letter in the previous application before the Board dated October 24, 2019."


The full letter is shown below.






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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This guy Menachem seems to thrive on fighting with neighbors across town to get more than he deserves. Gelt is his getchke, and nothing will stand in the way of his serving this avoda zara. No Torah. No hilchos bein adam l’chaveiro. No hilchos nizkei scheinim. No hilchos derech eretz.

His selfish lust to become wealthier and wealthier at every neighborhood’s expense tells you all you need to know about this character.