By STEVEN VIERA
OCEAN TOWNSHIP — After two years of controversy, a proposal for a Jewish college in the township has been approved thanks to a court order.
On Aug. 26, a federal court ruled that barring a Jewish post-secondary boarding school from Ocean Township violates the law and further ordered that the Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov be permitted to operate within the municipality.
“I am confident that we can build a solid relationship with this community, which is comprised of dedicated family-minded individuals, based on understanding and traditional values,” Rabbi Shlomo Lesin, an official for the Yeshiva, said in a press release.
The Yeshiva filed suit against Ocean Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment in January following the unanimous denial of its proposal to allow the 96-student Jewish university, citing violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), First and 14th Amendment rights, the Fair Housing Act as well as discrimination in the 11-count lawsuit.
During its initial proposal, the Yeshiva sought use and parking variances but did not seek an extension for additional time, forcing the zoning board into a vote. Township ordinances prohibit post-secondary religious schools throughout the entire municipality.
After the initiation of the lawsuit, the court ordered two additional hearings be conducted to further review the Yeshiva’s application, but when the hearings concluded, the zoning board issued another unanimous denial.
The court reversed the previous denials of the application by the zoning board and ruled that “the denial of that application is determined to be a violation of RLUIPA.”
According to Mayor Christopher Siciliano, “inappropriate comments on social media” led to claims of discrimination, although he pointed out that “a lot of those comments came from a population that’s not from Ocean Township.”
Siciliano said he met with representatives of the Yeshiva and worked with them to ensure that they would follow the conditions of the initial site plan, such as restrictions on smoking, noise and more.
“I think we got the best we can get for the township under the circumstances,” he said.
The Yeshiva’s application calls for the renovation of a former elementary school located on a 2.9-acre property at 1515 Logan Road and conversion into a two-story, live-in dormitory for male students between the ages of 18 and 22. For the past 25 years, the site has been used as an elementary day Yeshiva and a boarding school for high school students.