By Jennifer Ortiz
HOWELL – The Township Council has removed educational facilities as a permitted use in the municipality’s Agricultural Rural Estate (ARE-2) zones.
During the public hearing on the ordinance, attorney Christopher Costa, who represents an applicant who is before the Zoning Board of Adjustment with a plan to build an educational facility in an ARE-2 zone, addressed the council.
Costa represents Congregation Kollel Inc. and said his client “submitted a land use permit application and concept plan to the zoning officer on Aug. 19, 2015, to construct an educational facility at 344 Ford Road, which is in the ARE-2 zone, where educational facilities are permitted. (The zoning officer) denied the application on Aug. 31 and said it did not constitute an educational facility which would be permitted in the zone.”
Costa said his client has appealed the zoning officer’s decision to the zoning board on the grounds that it believes the proposed use clearly constitutes an educational facility.
“We had one hearing on the matter before the board on Dec. 21, 2015. Tonight (Jan. 25), the council proposes to pass an ordinance which will remove the category of educational facility as a permitted use in that zone. This is the use we are relying on in our application and we are concerned this ordinance is targeted against my client to use the property as a (school) for Jewish scholars, for high school and post-high school children,” Costa said.
“This type of ordinance against a particular type of religious group is prohibited under federal law and is particularly prohibited under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which allows for religious groups to seek relief in damages and attorney fees in federal court and in some circumstances actually bring actions against council members based upon the fact that we have an application currently pending which relies upon this ordinance definition. We urge the council not to adopt this … until this matter has been resolved before the zoning board,” Costa said.
Mayor Bill Gotto confirmed with Township Attorney McKenna Torcivia that the ordinance had nothing to do with any application before the board. Gotto said the council members simply do not believe that educational facilities belong as a permitted use in that zone.
“It is no different than other zoning changes we make on a regular basis based on input from our master plan subcommittee, our planning and zoning professionals, as well as requests from residents,” Gotto said.
Gotto, Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, Councilman Edward Guz and Councilman Robert Walsh voted to adopt the ordinance eliminating educational facilities as a permitted use in the ARE-2 zone.