PAL still trying to plan for Lakewood facility

Local developer willing
to discuss possibility
of constructing building

By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

PAL still trying to plan for Lakewood facility Local developer willing to discuss possibility of constructing building By Joyce Blay Staff Writer

Local developer willing
to discuss possibility
of constructing building
By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

JOYCE BLAY  A lot on Cedar Bridge Avenue in Lakewood sits idle as a sign proclaims that it may one day be the home of a Lakewood Police Athletic League facility.JOYCE BLAY A lot on Cedar Bridge Avenue in Lakewood sits idle as a sign proclaims that it may one day be the home of a Lakewood Police Athletic League facility.

LAKEWOOD — Five years after the Township Committee donated land on Cedar Bridge Avenue (Route 528) to the Lakewood Police Athletic League (LPAL), there is still no permanent facility on it.

The sign marking the future site of the organization’s home stands partially obscured by dense tree foliage, while teetering on metal poles that barely support its weight anymore.

The as-yet-undeveloped land is adjacent to the Kennedy Apartment complex on nearby Clover Street, while fronting a county highway that is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. Progress has bypassed the wooded parcel of land on which the sign announcing the proposed home of the LPAL still stands.

One local developer wants to help.

In an interview with the Tri-Town News, Ralph Zucker, president of Somerset Development Corp. in Lakewood, said he would help the LPAL construct a building. His dream, he said, is to help the LPAL create a second home to the inner city youths it serves, in the community in which they all live.

"If 10 developers sat around the table with their suppliers and the (township) committee, we could move it from a dream to reality," Zucker said. "I would be willing to spearhead an effort to shoulder some of the responsibility (for building the facility). Some of the supplies could be donated (but) it involves not just writing a check."

Zucker envisions the project as one where participants would contribute needed supplies and would donate their services to raise the facility much the way early settlers would cooperate to raise a barn or a house for a neighbor.

That is a suggestion that LPAL Presi-dent Arthur Lanfrank, 59, said he is open to discussing, too.

While this is not the first time that Zucker has made his offer or that Lanfrank has heard it, both men agree that the time is right to give something back to the community they both love.

"You could say that there’s an offer there that myself and my fellow builders would be willing to sit down and discuss what we could do to help," said Zucker. "We could do a substantial amount."

A retired Lakewood police officer, Lanfrank said he has already contributed a great deal of his own time and monetary resources to start up and keep the organization going after it folded two previous times under different administrations.

According to Lanfrank, Joe Buckalew, a sergeant with the Lakewood Police Depart-ment who was also a county freeholder, began the first LPAL in the mid-1950s.

When Buckalew became a businessman with other interests that took precedence over his time, no one else stepped in to take his place until Charles Lowe in the 1960s.

When Lowe died in the 1980s, said James Savage, 60, a trustee on the current LPAL board of directors, the organization ceased to operate until Lanfrank restarted it as a registered nonprofit charity.

That is an assertion disputed by former LPAL Vice President Lennie Nieves.

Nieves, who is the president of the Lakewood Police Benevolent Association (PBA), as well as the vice president of the Howell PAL, said that six years ago he was the one who tried to bring back the LPAL.

Eventually, Nieves became president of the PBA and Lanfrank, a fellow police officer who was about to retire, became president of the LPAL. Nieves became vice president of the LPAL.

Nieves said that in order to build a PAL facility in Lakewood, he initially spoke to Zucker years earlier to ask the developer for his help. He said Zucker agreed to help.

But when Nieves said he told Lanfrank of the offer, the retired officer said he expected Nieves to do more than negotiate the deal.

"Lennie wanted to delegate the work, not do it," said Lanfrank.

"Our goals were different," said Nieves. "I resigned so we could remain friends. If they need something, I’m there. That’s how it goes, because it’s for the kids."

That is the reason Lakewood Township Committeeman Ray Coles said the governing body at that time likely chose to donate land on which to build a facility to Lanfrank’s group, instead of the Ocean County PAL, a group headed by Brick residents Joseph Testa and Ronald Palmieri.

Palmieri tells a different story.

According to him, both he and Testa are active in their town coaching sports for the youths there. However, he said they were both appalled that the Brick PAL charged fees to use township sports facilities.

"[That’s why] we wanted to bring back the old-style PAL, when it was run by the police," said Palmieri. "Once we were formed, we wanted to find the right location — that’s why we chose Lakewood."

He said their group’s actions did not sit well with the Brick PAL, which Palmieri said had contacted Lanfrank, who in turn approached the Lakewood Township Com-mittee to request that the governing body instead donate land to his PAL instead of to Palmieri’s.

The committee chose to make the land available for the LPAL.

"[They] didn’t know one kid from Lakewood," said Lanfrank, referring to Palmieri’s competing PAL. "[Palmieri was a] stranger who ran for [Ocean County] sheriff and lost. It’s so political."

Palmieri currently works in the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department in Toms River. He was an unsuccessful independent candidate for county sheriff in 2000.

Coles, who was not a committee member at the time the arrangement was made with Lanfrank’s group, had just one wish for its success.

"We want the Police Athletic League to have a strong presence in Lakewood," he said.

For the past two years, said Lanfrank, that is exactly what the LPAL has maintained in Lakewood, taking children to baseball and hockey games, as well as to other spectator events, and providing a strong adult role model.

"I just want to help out poor kids in Lakewood [who have] nowhere else to go," said Lanfrank.

However, Lanfrank also said he wants to see a facility that can provide those children with recreational activity as well.

Unless the facility is built soon, according to Nieves, that may not be possible.

"I was told not too long ago that if another organization wants that site, its theirs," said Nieves. "The LPAL had three years to put a building [there], or another organization [would be given the site]."

Township Committeeman Charles Cun-liffe confirmed that the committee passed a resolution several years ago that limited the time any group to which the committee donated land had to build on it.

That is a consequence Palmieri said he would welcome.

"If the Lakewood PAL [defaults and] loses the land, we would be interested in taking their place if the site were larger," he said.