The Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel clashed with its neighbors this week over charges of excessive noise emanating from the center’s gym, but the sides are hopeful of a quick resolution with the help of the borough of Fair Lawn.
At issue is the International Youth Basketball league, which rents the Jewish center’s gymnasium to hold games three to four nights a week. The center’s neighbors have complained that the games cause too much noise late at night and have sought to have the center’s ability to rent the space revoked through a cease-and-desist order from the borough’s zoning board.
"When you have a league, it’s not just people shooting up baskets," Fair Lawn Mayor Steve Weinstein told The Jewish Standard this week. The neighbors "heard the shouting and the whistle and thought it was too much."
The FLJC appealed the order and has submitted a zoning application to use the gymnasium to host the basketball games. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19.
At its Oct. 9 meeting, the borough council heard complaints from the center’s neighbors, who hoped the council would intervene before the zoning board hearing. Five of the center’s neighbors came to last week’s meeting, along with the center’s attorney, Leonard Z. Kaufmann of the Saddle Brook law firm Cohn Lifland Pearlman Hermann & Knopf. Leaders of the Jewish center deferred all comment to Kaufmann.
"We have not violated any ordinance, never been cited for any violation of any ordinance, and disagree that there is anything excessive," Kaufmann told the Standard.
The Jewish center has rented space to the basketball league for the past three years. Neighbors began complaining to the council in May because of what they perceived as excessive noise, and after two meetings with the center’s representatives over the summer, received the cease-and-desist order.
Borough Manager Tom Metzler told the Standard that the situation poses the question of what type of activity is allowed in the gym, and specifically the center’s right to rent the space to an outside league, even if, like International Youth Basketball, it is a nonprofit organization.
"Did the zoning allow for basketball play for the members, or was it allowed for a non-member use? That’s what the issue is," Metzler said, noting that there would be no issue if the league were a program of the center instead of a tenant.
The zoning board is independent of the borough council, but Metzler said he hopes that the council could act as a mediator between the two parties.
A call on Wednesday to International Youth Basketball was not returned by press time. However, while the league is the source of the disturbance between the center and its neighbors, it is not involved in discussions toward a resolution.
League play continues in the meantime, since the center’s appeal earned a stay on the cease-and-desist order. The center’s representatives have struck a conciliatory tone with the neighbors, however, and both groups are trying to find a compromise, Metzler said.
"We have had discussions with our neighbors because we want to be a good neighbor in an attempt to reach a reasonable compromise," said Kaufmann.
Borough officials were hopeful that the center and its neighbors would soon work out an agreement.
"They’ve come to a position where they’re going to come back to the table and discuss it and work out an agreement in the next couple of days," Weinstein said.