Ocean County Judge Overturns Lakewood Zoning Board Approval After Neighbors Go to Court

An Ocean County judge delivered a stinging rebuke to Lakewood’s Zoning Board, ruling that it had broken the law when it approved a recent application, representing a massive win for the “little guy” in Lakewood.

The case centered around a developer’s request to allow him to build six houses on a plot designed for one, by subdividing a parcel located in an R-40 zone, which requires 40,000 square feet of land for each property, into 10,000 square foot lots so he could build 6 townhouses on it.

Lakewood residents who live near the property protested the request, saying that the overcrowding would change the face of the neighborhood and wasn’t fair to those who already live in the area.

After initial testimony, the Lakewood Zoning Board granted the variance to the developer, but did so without adequately providing neighbors their rights, the judge ruled this week. The residents had hired attorney Jan Meyer – a frum lawyer who also chairs the Zoning Board in Teaneck – to oppose the application on their behalf before the Board. Despite asking for the hearing to be briefly postponed so that he can hire expert witnesses to appear on behalf of the opposition, the Lakewood Zoning Board refused, effectively denying Mr. Meyer time to gather the facts and hire professional experts to testify before the Board. The Board expressed to him and the residents that there is no time to wait, and simply approved the application with minor modifications.

When an expert witness testifies in a zoning or planning board case, his testimony is considered as evidence and the objectors must have a meaningful opportunity to have their concerns heard and bring expert testimony to support the opposition. Denying a party such reasonable opportunity is wrong.

Judge Marlene Lynch Ford ruled that the Zoning Board had broken the law by not allowing Mr. Meyer an opportunity to bring expert testimony before the board. She therefore nullified their zoning approval.

“The failure to grant the request for a reasonable brief adjournment so that the counsel for the plaintiffs could be adequately prepared, arrange for any opposition expert witnesses… and to otherwise be prepared in connection with this was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” Judge Ford said.

“The matter will be remanded to the Board for any further proceedings that are not inconsistent with this order,” she added.

The ruling may also apply to a number of other cases currently being heard by the Lakewood Zoning and Planning boards to which there is stiff opposition from Lakewood residents.

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    • Maybe for you it won’t make a difference, but you can only speak for yourself.

      More congestion in my area will absolutely destroy my neighborhood. I shouldn’t have to suffer so a developer can get his way. The law is clear. My voice needs to be heard.

  1. This is a BIG win for the residents of Lakewood. This judgement comes to show that Lakewood Township Boards can’t just do what they want. They work for all the people, not only for themselves and developers. They have to listen to us.

  2. Maybe this lawyer should overlook all things done by lakewood zoning board. Chances that other cases are similar to this, the zoning board should be monitored and penalized for doing something illegal.

  3. It’s about time we got some law and order with our land use boards. We always felt like they weren’t interested in listening to our legitimate concerns and just rammed applications through because they’re in a rush to get home. Hopefully, they’ll start shaping up now.

  4. Spruce and Washington. This developer has tried for almost 10 years to break the R40 zone and destroy the neighborhood. Lesson for all neighborhoods in Lakewood when you come under attack, quickly hire the best attorneys possible and never give up. It might cost you some dollars but if you want to protect your quality of life you must fight.

  5. Honestly my hat goes off to the Spruce street mafia for standing up to a very aggressive and unfair process. Big win for the Average joe in lakewood and kudos to the scoop for such an informative article

  6. Sounds like the Judge knew exactly what to do. I give her a lot of credit. However, the damage is already done.No tuning back now.She could have found so many more issues. It would take years.

  7. heard the developer took the block to a din torah and called the neighbors rosh hayishiva to try to exert pressure that the block should back down. defend your neighborhood because you will not get relief at the boards.

  8. This is great news however do not mistake this as a win for the little guy this is simply the result of some wealthy individuals living in the area – we need to get the average joes around town to wake up and follow this example

  9. Definitely a slight victory but this just remands to the board to hear the professional expert’s testimony, after which they will fully disregard it and grant the approval again. So victory for who? The attorney who gets to bill more hours? The expert who gets paid for his testimony? The board who gets more items on their agenda so they can validate their salary and lifetime benefit increases?

    • Dear Wanna B.

      You are incorrect. When this goes back to the Board with the ability for the objectors to present their opposition fully prepared, the outcome will be vastly different. They will have an opportunity to cross examine the applicant’s experts and prove their assertions wrong. They will also present evidence showing that the application has no merit. All of this will become part of the official record. We expect the Board to keep an open mind and apply permissible rationale in their decisions. If the Board still decides to disregard the arguments presented to them without legally justifiable reasoning, which they cannot because the variances requested are so out of line, the neighbors will go right back to court again to overturn the approval.

      We live in America, so the developer still retains the right to keep spinning his wheels and get nowhere, if that’s what he chooses to do.

      You’re also mistaken when you state that the land use Board members get paid or receive other financial benefits. They do not. They are appointed volunteers. (You’re getting confused with the committeemen who do receive payments and potential lifetime benefits). Perhaps if they got compensated, they wouldn’t feel so rushed to get the meeting over with and they’d give members of the public enough time to properly articulate their concerns.

      Too often, they intimidate the public by telling them to hurry up and get their testimony over in 3 minutes or less. This makes individuals nervous, and they become unable to organize their thoughts properly. Another example is when they tell the residents that they better not repeat anything which may have been stated earlier or they’ll be simply cut off before they can finish. This is very unfair to residents whose quality of life is about to permanently get turned upside down. Additionally, many individuals are not articulate enough to condense their points sufficiently to the board’s satisfaction, as they’re not trained professional speakers. They also might feel that they have a different perspective to share on a specific issue which was brough up earlier but will nevertheless be shut down.

      Board members must know that if they signed up for this position – even if voluntarily – they cannot do a half-baked job. As we all learned in this recent ruling, disenfranchising the public is a bad idea!

  10. anyone who has been by the zoning board meeting even once knows the whole thing is a joke, anyone who takes their ruling to court will always win

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