By Matthew Sockol
FREEHOLD – An escape room in Freehold Borough has found itself in a situation from which it is attempting to escape.
Following a review of the situation, borough officials have determined that the Amazing Escape Room, 77 W. Main St., is not a permitted use in the zone in which it is operating. The business is owned by Howard Klotzkin and has been in operation since the summer of 2015.
According to Business Administrator Joseph Bellina, a zoning permit was issued to Klotzkin on or about May 27, 2015, for professional office use. He said the Amazing Escape Room’s application indicated the business was involved in team building for up to six individuals from companies or groups and would teach them to work together.
The Amazing Escape Room is in a B-1 zone, which permits offices of members of recognized professions, banks, funeral homes, photography studios, music, dance and art studios, and public institutions of higher education.
A municipal investigation of the Amazing Escape Room was prompted by complaints from neighbors regarding noise, large groups of people congregating in and around the property, traffic and other issues. The investigation determined the description of the Amazing Escape Room’s proposed use in its initial application was not reflective of the activity being conducted on the site, according to Bellina.
Visitors at the Amazing Escape Room are placed in a room where they attempt to uncover and decipher clues in order to escape from the room in one hour or less.
The investigation noted that school groups and other groups of more than 30 people were congregating outside the business and that the Amazing Escape Room’s website did not promote it as a professional office, but advertised the business as entertainment.
In November, Klotzkin was notified that the business’s use was inconsistent with its application and permit. He was directed to file an application for a use variance with the Planning Board.
Klotzkin applied for a use variance and a zoning interpretation which would state that the business’s use in the B-1 zone was permitted.
On April 27, the board upheld the municipality’s determination that the Amazing Escape Room’s use is not permitted in the B-1 zone.
According to a May 10 letter from attorney Vincent Halleran, who represents Klotzkin, to Bellina, Klotzkin will appeal the board’s decision in Superior Court. Halleran wrote that Klotzkin will not proceed with the use variance application until the appeal of the zoning issue is resolved in court.
The Amazing Escape Room remains operational. However, Borough Attorney Kerry Higgins said during the Borough Council’s May 16 meeting that the municipality will pursue a cease and desist order against the business.