LAKEWOOD - The Township Committee is poised to approve an ordinance that could allow all private and public schools in Lakewood to operate banquet halls and host events such as weddings and concerts.
The second reading and final approval of the ordinance is scheduled for a vote to take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at Town Hall.
Some residents have complained about the potential impact of the rule change. The main point of contention: parking.
“I think it is going to cause chaos," Lakewood resident Peter Flum said. "Because parking is a huge problem in this town. And who knows how many people are going to show up? You cannot have an open-door policy. If the place is a school, it should remain a school.”
The draft ordinance requires one parking space per every 100 square feet. That is 45 parking spots for a venue the size a basketball court, which typically hosts about 550 guests.
With schools present in 97% of Lakewood zones, allowing banquet halls in all schools will be detrimental to the township, said Robert C. Shea, an attorney contesting the ordinance who represents clients from Lakewood’s Industrial Park.
Last week, the Lakewood Planning Board recommended one parking space per every 45 square feet of banquet facility space, including kitchen and foyer space. That would mean 100 parking spaces for a venue that can host up to 500 patrons.
Shea contested the parking formula, saying that one parking space per seat should be the appropriate ratio, which is the number of parking spaces local ordinances require for hotel banquet halls.
Currently, Lakewood requires theaters to have one parking spot per every two seats.
Noise in neighborhoods
The planning board offered mixed feelings on whether schools in residential areas should be excluded from the ordinance.
At one point Moshe Neiman, the planning board chairman, argued that it wasn’t necessary to exclude schools in residential zones from having banquet halls as long as they could provide enough parking spaces.
“If we come up with a parking ratio that works, who cares what zone is it?” Neiman asked.
However, board member Bruce Stern brought up concerns about the noise these venues can produce.
“I've got to be honest. That would be a disaster. If you start putting weddings and halls (in residential zones), you are going to start dealing with music, you are going to enter in a conversation about buffers and noise,” said Stern.
Stern's argument prevailed, and the planning board voted to recommend excluding schools in residential zones from having banquet halls. It's up to the Township Committee to decide whether to act on those recommendations, or approve the ordinance as is.
Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles said that the ordinance will not intervene with previous resolutions that have banned specific schools from having a banquet facility. Such is the case of Bnos Yaakov, an all-girls elementary school on Kent Road, which the Planning Board banned from building a banquet facility in a resolution memorialized last May 24.
Juan Carlos Castillo is a reporter covering everything Lakewood. He delves into politics, social issues and human-interest stories. Reach out to him at JcCastillo@gannett.com
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Lakewood NJ to vote on whether to allow banquet halls in schools