In quite some shocking developments, Yechiel Herzl, the Mayor's Designee on the Lakewood Township Planning Board, was called out by an attorney for allegedly colluding with developers to attempt to nudge the Board to withdraw from appealing the Superior Court’s ruling in the Besadar Holdings application, FAA News has learned.

As first reported here on FAA News, back in June 2022, Solomon Halpern of Besadar Holdings, represented by Attorney Robert C. Shea, Esq. and Engineer Brian Flannery, presented a "mostly conforming" application for 9 new single family homes on a cul-de-sac road along the southwest side of Fourteenth Street, southeast of Curtis Lane.

Many neighbors, represented by Attorney Ron Gasiorowski Esq. and Engineer Gordon Gemma, opposed the application.

The Planning Board typically approves new developments easily, especially if they are technically fully conforming. However, this application got very special treatment.

The Board cited concerns that there would be insufficient parking both off and on-street due to the "possibility" that there would be basements.

Board Chairman Moshe Neiman explained that his hesitations with this application were due to the "uniqueness" and "specific clientele" of the Fourteenth Street neighborhood.

Ultimately, the Board voted nearly unanimously to deny the application. Only Chairman Neiman and Mr. Yair Stern abstained from voting.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in August 2022, the developer returned to the Board seeking reconsideration.

Despite renewed pushback from the developer, the Board again uncharacteristically advocated strongly on behalf of this "unique" neighborhood.

Chairman Neiman uncharacteristically sided strongly with the neighbors, stating, "yes, the application is conforming, and therefore, in a court of law a judge might side with you, however, this board needs to take into account the exclusivity of this neighborhood."

"We can't deny this application solely due to traffic, and if we could do that, we would deny every application because there is traffic everywhere in Lakewood. However, this is a very exclusive neighborhood, with neighbors who have lived here a long time and there are no basements in this area, therefore, this application would change the look of this whole neighborhood and that's why the neighbors fought so strongly against this application," Chairman Neiman added.

The Board voted to deny the reconsideration request.

As first reported here on FAA News, represented by Attorney Shea, back in November 2022, the developer filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Board's denial, asserting that "though there was one single design waiver, the application was "effectively as of right."

As previously reported here on FAA News, following the filing of the lawsuit, Viggy Blech retained Attorney Ed Liston Esq. to join the lawsuit as intervenor and help defend the Board.

Ultimately, as previously reported here on FAA News, at a plenary hearing held on November 2, 2023, Judge Wellerson overturned the Board's denial, saying that he is constrained and compelled to reverse the Board's denial of the application because "the Township Committee is the one with the authority to look at an undeveloped piece of property and determine what the appropriate use of the property should be. Unfortunately, it's not in the Planning Board's discretion to question the density permitted by the Township Committee."

"I'm not substituting my own judgement for what is best for Lakewood. I'm saying that I need to consider what is reasonable under the circumstances. Was the reason for the denial based on the waiver or based on other reasons, such as the "uniqueness" and "specific clientele" of the Fourteenth Street neighborhood.

"There is no record before the Board that an approval of this application would create a dangerous situation. Therefore, the question here simply is 'does Lakewood permit this type of development?' That is the question. The answer is yes. Therefore, the Board simply can't enact its own zoning plan," Judge Wellerson concluded.

Subsequently, the neighbors decided to appeal the decision. In January 2024, they filed an initial Notice of Appeal to the Appellate Division.

At the time, the Planning Board agreed to join the appeal.

Just last week the neighbors filed their legal brief.

Mr. Liston argued as follows:

There were two waivers, and the issue on appeal is whether the Board arbitrarily or capriciously denied the waivers.

The Township's ordinance (18-601) provides the following standard for waivers:

"...if the applicant can clearly demonstrate that, because peculiar conditions pertaining to the subject parcel, the literal enforcement of this section is impracticable or will exact undue hardship, the Planning Board may permit such exemption(s) and waiver(s) as may be reasonable..."

Yet, the word "hardship" does not appear even once in Plaintiffs briefs.

The Planning Board was certainly justified in declining to grant waivers under the Township's standard as the applicant never explained the "undue hardship" justifying either waiver.

The applicant's silence is understandable, since any hardship is the applicant's self creation. The applicant could comply with the tree requirement, but it chose instead to locate a drainage system where the trees are supposed to be. Additionally, there would be no deviation from the radial-lot-line requirement, but for the applicant's insistence on cramming nine lots along the proposed roadway.

Mr. Liston also argued that the Board lacked jurisdiction to hear the application because the legal notice was faulty as it only mentioned nine homes and not the additional basement apartments.

The Board's legal brief is due very shortly.

However, the Board's participation in the appeal nearly got thrown away.

The Board discussed the pending appeal in a closed session. When they came out of closed session, Mr. Jackson stated that "there had been a suggestion that the Board withdraw from participation in the appeal, but that ultimately the majority of the Board disagreed with this suggestion, therefore the status quo remains in tact and we will continue with our appeal."

Mr. Liston spoke up on behalf of the neighbors. He stated that "the suggestion to withdraw" came from Mr. Herzl who pushed for it due to pressure from the developer. He pointed out that ironically, Mr. Herzl was not even a member of the Board when they denied this application so he shouldn't now have any basis to meddle with the Board's prior actions.

Mr. Liston also objected to the Board discussing Mr. Herzl's suggestion in closed session. He vowed to file complaints with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office if the Board does go into closed session.

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Common sense said...

Of course Herzel is terrible for Lakewood on the planing Board. Ray, why did you put him back on as Mayor's designee? This guy when he was the chairman of the board he destroyed many neighborhoods, he doesn't care about anything, he thinks he's just scanning more items at the register in his grocery store. He needs to be kept far away from any decision making for development in Lakewood. He is a serious problem for our future.

Coles, remove Herzl immediately from the Planning Board before this comes Beck to bite you even worse. Shut this down ASAP!!!

Resident Pedestrian said...

Herzl has regular ex parte' conversations with applicants and their planners about their pending applications. Everyone knows it. He could care less about parking issues and the headaches they cause to the residents. He could care less about the need for sidewalks so we can be safe while we walk. He could care less about using common sense when reviewing proposed developments.

Whose bright idea was it to put him back on the Board??

Stop Destroying our Town! said...

Isn't it illegal for the board members to be discussing any of the details of an applications not in front of the public?
Why is there an Open Public Meetings Act?
There is supposed to be transparency with the board. Perhaps they need to go back to school and learn the basics of their dutieson the board. Perhaps I need to spell it out for them, as they mudt have missed that training class.
The Boards were enacted to serve and protect the public's interests, not to make some greedy developers rich while destroying our town.

This illegal board activity needs too stop already. Can't these idiots see that they are destroying our Town?????

Anonymous said...

You are mistaken.
The purpose of the board in lakewood is to provide cover for the corrupt township committee. They get some side benfits for doing that and the developers and township committee profit on everyone elses cheshbon.

Anonymous said...

Saying one neighborhood is more exclusive than another is a violation of the “Fair Housing Act”