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Yanky Lipshitz is once again returning to the Lakewood Planning Board seeking approval of his Chestnut Holdings application.

This will be his 5th attempt to secure an approval at this site off Chestnut Street across from Evergreen Avenue.

The major concession now is the inclusion of a 8,191 sq foot playground which will eliminate one of the previously proposed housing units.

Back in June 2022, Jacob Lipshitz and Hersh Eissenberg of Chestnut Holdings NJ LLC submitted Application ZB 4235 to the Zoning Board to construct a cul-de-sac bulb with 14 duplex structures (28 dwelling units).

The application notice, published by Attorney Sam Brown of The Brown Law Firm stated that the new duplexes were a permitted use, and the only reason the application was submitted to the Zoning Board was because it included a single family home which currently exists, and is to remain, in the HD-7 zone where single family homes are not a permitted use.

However, as exposed here on FAA News, this was fake news.

The 4.65 acre site included Block 1077 Lots 43, 51, and 52, which are indeed located in the HD-7 zone, however, the rear yards of one side of the proposed homes cross into Lot 1 which is in the R-12 zone which does not permit duplexes. Accordingly, the application required a Use Variance - for which the applicant did not notice, thus the Board lacked jurisdiction to hear the application.

Following this exposure on FAA News, at the Board's public hearing in July 2022, neighbors opposed consideration of the application due to the jurisdictional issue. Board Attorney Jerry Dasti concurred, and Attorney Zev Brown agreed to renotice for a Use Variance application.

The application returned to the Board in September 2022. Board Chairman Abe Halberstam argued that he is concerned that the driveways of the 4 duplexes at the front of the Subdivision are very close to Chestnut Street, which will lead to too much congestion at the entranceway to the development where the boulevard will go.

Chestnut Street area resident Aaron Hirsch additionally opposed the application, noting that there was no proposed shul and the local shuls are already full.

Mr. Halberstam agreed that he wants to address the neighbors' concerns, and therefore this development - if it does come back to the Board - should eliminate the front units to make room for a proper bus stop, and also, a shul and playground should be provided.

At that point, realizing that they were facing a denial, which would prejudice them from returning with a slightly amended application, Mr. Brown formally withdrew the application.

Rather than redesign their project to provide a shul and playground, the developers cut out the "forbidden R-12 area" from the project, thus precluding any need to return to the Zoning Board. 

Instead, they submitted an application to the Planning Board for only 26 units. As each lot was redesigned to contain exactly 8,500 sq feet, the application did not require any bulk variances.

At the Board’s first hearing on the application, the Board expressed concern with the number of units all squeezed onto one cul-de-sac with no secondary access road. The Board stated that it appeared that the application did not comply with the state’s RSIS requirements of providing a secondary access road for developments with more than 25 units.

Ultimately, the developers returned to the Board with a letter from RSIS which indicated that a secondary access road was not required. 

Yet, thanks to heavy opposition from the neighbors the Board continued to pushback against the application, telling the applicants that they needed to provide a playground. 

After continued pushing from the Board and neighbors, the applicant's professionals offered to eliminate one house (i.e. one side of a duplex unit) to provide open space for the new development. The Board did not waiver, but rather insisted that they can not approve the application without an actual shul and playground, and without the boulevard being extended all throughout the entire roadway. 

Amazingly, just at that point the Board reinterpreted the Township's Open Space Ordinance to count basement apartments as a separate unit. Based on this new interpretation, the Board found that the Chestnut Holdings application did not comply with this Ordinance as it did not provide open space for 56 units. 

After the applicant refused to provide an actual shul and playground, the Board declined to grant a design waiver to provide relief from providing the required Open Space, and voted to deny the application.

Subsequently, as previously reported here on FAA News, the developers, represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq., filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Board's denial.

At trial, Board Attorney John Jackson emphasized to Judge Hodgson the importance of open space in Lakewood, and that "a certain quality of life in the town that cannot be ignored simply because an applicant seeks to provide for double the amount of people in a development."

Mr. Pfeffer argued that he disagreed with the Board's reinterpretation of the open space requirement, and that the developers did offer at the public hearing (and are still willing to offer) to dedicate one lot for open space based on the calculations of 28 units - but not based on 56 units.

Judge Hodgson brushed him off saying that the Board has the legal right to interpret the Township's ordinances and in this case the Board properly determined that this is considered 56 units for the purposes of counting open space.

Mr. Pfeffer tried arguing that as far as "zoning" is concerned this is only a 28 unit subdivision. He added that "there is no guarantee that the future homeowners will use their basements for separate apartments. I know plenty of people who have large families and use their basements for their own families." Judge Hodgson pushed back, saying that the Board does have leeway to interpret the basement apartments in terms of the open space requirement even though in terms of "zoning" this may be only a 28 unit subdivision.

Accordingly, Judge Hodgson declined to toss out the Board's denial of the application. 

(This ruling has major ramifications for Lakewood. Going forward, developers will not be able to challenge the planning board's determination on the matter.)

Following this court ruling, the developers are returning to the Board this Tuesday, April 9, 2024 seeking approval for Application # SD-2553.

The meeting - which is open to the public - will take place at Town Hall, beginning at 7:00pm.

The revised plans propose 13 duplex structures (26 units plus basement apartments) and a 8,191 sq foot playground which will be dedicated to a HOA.

The two existing one-story frame dwellings will be removed. A third existing two-story frame dwelling is proposed to be converted into a duplex.

A new cul-de-sac indicated as Griven Boulevard is proposed to service most of the duplex dwellings.

Concrete curbing exists along the Chestnut Street frontage, but sidewalks do not. Sidewalk is proposed with this project. Utilities are available nearby and will be extended to this project. Stormwater management facilities will be provided with proposed underground recharge systems.

Some street trees and street lighting are proposed along Griven Boulevard. 4 off-street parking spaces are proposed for each dwelling unit.

It does not appear that any variances or design waivers are required for the application. However, in his review letter, Board Engineer Terry Vogt wrote:

Parking relief appears to be required for the proposed dwelling to be converted into a duplex.

Our review indicates that the proposed off-street parking configuration with the turnarounds required along the County Highway is unacceptable. We recommend that the existing single-family dwelling remain and be designed as a complying lot.

If the Board agrees, this will eliminate an additional unit.

One final note: While the Board did win in court regarding a playground, they did not win on their bid to require the developers to construct a shul as well.

This is because, despite Mr. Jackson's best arguments to Judge Hodgson as to why Lakewood needs shuls, the fact of the matter is that the Township Committee has remained unwilling to fix the ordinance to include such a requirement.

The Township's open space ordinance requires that developers set aside 5% which "shall be preserved as common open space or shall be dedicated to active recreational or community facilities."

What this means that the developers can simply set aside a vacant open lot. They are not actually required to construct a shul or a playground. Accordingly, the planning board has no leeway to require same.

Already back in July 2023, as first reported here on FAA News, this issue was brought to the attention of the Township Committee. Specifically, members of the public requested that the Committee fix this problem by amending the ordinance to say "5% of land area shall be preserved as common open space with active recreational or community facilities" - this will explicitly require actual playground equipment and /or shuls.

At the time, Mayor Ray Coles agreed with the concern and gave a preliminary enthusiastic response. 

However, since that time, despite numerous reminders, the Committee continues to ignore the issue.

Sounds like they just don't see any need for shuls and playgrounds in Lakewood.

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