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Yeshiva applicant fights back with lawsuit

By Kenny Walter
Staff Writer

OCEAN TOWNSHIP— A lawsuit is the result of the abrupt conclusion last month to the highly scrutinized proposal for a Jewish college and dormitory.

Attorneys representing the Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov’s filed suit against the Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Ocean Township Council on Jan. 8, citing a civil rights violation and discrimination after the board rejected the application for a 96-student Jewish university.

The 11-count lawsuit cites a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), a violation of first and 14th amendment rights, a violation of the Fair Housing Act and discrimination.

“This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple,” said Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the Yeshiva in a press release. “The situation that the Yeshiva has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA’s protections are necessary.”

The plan called for the renovation of a former elementary school building on 2.9 acres at 1515 Logan Road, between Park Boulevard and Grassmere Avenue, and the conversion into a two-story, live-in dormitory for 96 male students, ages 18-22.

Under township ordinances, post secondary religious schools are prohibited throughout the entire town.

The applicant sought several variances, including a use variance and a parking variance.

The board unanimously ruled against the Yeshiva’s application on Dec. 1 after developers opted not to seek a time extension to extend the hearings further, which forced the board into a vote.

Residents have vehemently opposed the project since hearings began in 2014, with many citing noise, safety and traffic concerns associated with the proposed use.

According to the 79-page lawsuit, residents opposing the application regularly made anti-Semitic comments and posts on social media sites throughout the time the application was active.

Since 2014, the applicant has leased a space for the school in Lakewood, which will expire in August, and the owner has indicated it would not be renewed.

In the past 25 years, the 2.927-acre site has been used as an elementary day Yeshiva and a boarding school for high school students.

The Yeshiva is also represented by attorney Donna M. Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer , which has its main headquarters in Woodbridge and an office in nearby Eatontown.

“Importantly, a claim under RLUIPA negates the presumption of validity afforded the zoning board’s decision under New Jersey common law,” Jennings said. “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.”

Zoning Board attorney Mark Steinberg did not comment o

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