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Yeshiva Files Federal Complaint in Ocean Township School Application Denial

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OCEAN TOWNSHIP: A residential use variance requested of the Ocean Board of Adjustment by the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov, Inc. "to modify and use an existing school building for a Talmudic Academy for 96 male students ages 18 to 22 with boarding facilities.." with site plan approval and associated bulk variances on premises at 1515 Logan Road, Wanamassa" which would be located "in the R-4 Residential Zone" in the township was denied in December and the decision memorialized in a resolution issued at the January 6, 2016 meeting of the BOA.

The Yeshiva wants to upgrade and use the existing elementary level school property on Logan Road for a new school's the secondary school students. The new school use would include having students residing overnight.

The applicant presented testimony by Rabbi Shlomo Lesin, dean of the academy who explained the school would be renovated for sleeping quarters with rest rooms and living facilities. The overnight requirement would be to allow attendance to earn higher learning degrees in Talmudic studies. The degrees would require intense study requiring long daily schedules, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

The Rabbi advised there was a strict code of conduct limiting traffic ingress and egress requirements, parking limits, and personal constraints of students not smoking, outside recreation, or student cars on campus.

Applicant expert testimony described the very low noise levels that would be even less than the existing school's usage. The applicant's testimony was based in part on studies at the Talmudic Academy operations in Lakewood.

Public questioning seeking more information was not provided, the BOA order states, Some public concern was directed at how the operations situation might change if the property were later occupied by new occupants if later sold and purchased.

The BOA resolution states that other questioning was prevented when the applicant refused further time and extension of the hearings. The Resolution says that failure of the board to render a decision when hearings were stopped would indicate legally that a favorable decision was reached, thus the BOA ruling/in December,

The case, begun in October 2014, had 9 hearings, some of which were agreed to by the applicant to allow extending the decision date beyond the standard case duration. The BOA said there was relatively little testimony and comments by the public, and that much of the hearing time was used by applicant witnesses and experts to offer a thorough set of school conditions, agreed upon concessions and related testimony.

The Resolution document of the denial reads that ".. the voluminous number of persons in opposition did not have sufficient time to present expert testimony in opposition or inform the Board of their concerns and objections..."

At the December earing the applicant decided to not agree to allow further extension of hearing dates. The Board ruled to deny the application for reasons of insuffienet time allowed for others to be heard. It would be concluded procedurally that the variance was granted by the BOA.

The applicant has decided to take the decision to court. On January 8, 2016, through the firm of Storzer & Greene, Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov filed suit against Ocean Township, N.J. and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's zoning regulations and Board's denial of the Yeshiva's variance application to use an existing school building, the Talmudic academy was filed in federal district court alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the Fair Housing Act.

The firm said Yeshiva is also represented by New Jersey attorney Donna M. Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A.

The court complaint says the Yeshiva needs a religious school, and the Township's zoning laws completely prohibit religious education throughout the Township for students over 18 years of age, while permitting other adult education institutions.

It also describes what it cites as a long litany of examples of the substantial hostility faced by the Yeshiva during the variance application proceedings. The court filing says hearings were confronted with descriptions of the applicant as "religious zealots," "[s]cumbags," "dirty" and "Long coat gangsters," and accused of being "a different breed; the women are sub species and their ways are cultish, . . . ."

The Complaint as described in a Storzer & Greene statement that "many Ocean Township residents hold animus toward the Orthodox Jewish community in nearby Lakewood, New Jersey," that the "Ocean Township community . . . engaged in a concerted effort to 'pack' the hearings [and] delay proceedings," and this "hostility by many residents of Ocean Township includes unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men." The variance application dragged on for approximately four times the statutory limit of 120 days, including proceedings shut down because of capacity being exceeded by crowds "packing" the venue.

The filed complaint, Storzer states, "The Township will be required to demonstrate that its zoning regulation is the least restrictive means available in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. Moreover, a plaintiff may seek not only injunctive relief, but damages and attorney fees for a wrongful denial. These financial remedies are not available under state law," added Donna M. Jennings, co-counsel for the Yeshiva."

The Complaint is available at http://tinyurl.com/z6t9qqj per Mr. Storzer.

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