Mayor Ray Coles and the Township Committee have initiated new protocols that they say will give residents more of a voice in how development plans are approved in the Orthodox boom-town of Lakewood. Procedures will require those presenting plans for construction to give clear details of what their finished products will look like, as well as to commit to cover related infrastructure costs.
“Some residents felt that the boards had become a rubber stamp for developers for too long,” Mayor Coles told Hamodia. “We are not looking to use this as a way to slow things down, but to make sure that neighbors know what they are getting themselves into when the planning board approves a project.”
He added that in the past, developers often submitted very vague plans and as such were not required to take on the construction of infrastructure such as sidewalks, which ended up being mandatory according to final construction. In other instances, building projects led to far more congestion than expected.
“We are trying to streamline the process to make it more layperson- friendly, that people listening can understand what they are getting themselves into,” Township Committee member Meir Lichtenstein told Hamodia.
Mayer Kesserman, president of Kesserman Construction Group and Adeer Builders Inc., a local developer, told Hamodia that he had not yet reviewed the updated checklist for submitting plans, but welcomed the idea of comprehensive guidelines before projects, even without variances, being approved.
“Definitely the township leaders have to be able to add more insight and involvement and encourage talent into the kind of development that goes on in Lakewood,” he said.
The Township Committee was also working to ensure that those living near prospective construction are given the opportunity to hear proposals and “to have their voices heard.”
As Lakewood grows, so does congestion in the town. In response, the township has initiated a “master plan” committee to evaluate how the town can effectively plan for future growth.
“They are taking a general overview of the town’s development, as well as needs like infrastructure, open spaces, schools and so on,” said Mr. Lichtenstein.
The committee, formed last year, is expected to have its report complete by the end of 2017.
Mr. Kesserman agreed that broader planning could be greatly beneficial.
“The town must be able to focus on how to develop a suburban community where houses have proper privacy as well as safe access to sidewalks, parking and access to roads,” he said. “It’s not that the town is overdeveloped. In a way it’s underdeveloped … I really believe if planning would be done a little smarter, we could build for even more people and the town would be nicer, too.”