Jackson Township's Zoning Board today formally a Consent Order to finally settle a Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) lawsuit originally filed against them in 2014 by Oros Bais Yaakov following the Board's denial of their school application.

The settlement includes $1,350,000 ($1.35 million) in financial compensation and the right to construct the school.

In August 2013, Oros Bais Yaakov submitted an application to the Zoning Board seeking Use Variance relief to construct a high school on a lot near the Lakewood Township border which was zoned for "rural residential" use.

When the Oros Bais Yaakov plan was first heard before the Jackson Township Zoning Board, more than 1,000 residents packed the municipal building and then Jackson Memorial High School to argue against the structure.

Zoning board members questioned the size of the school, proposed to be a two-story building with up to 400 students on a 7.5-acre parcel of land.

The school would create traffic issues and "change the basic character" of a residential area, board members opined.

"This is a monstrosity of a building that would be placed in their backyards. It does not belong there," board member Carl Book Jr., said.

“The community of Jackson cannot expect the Orthodox residents of Jackson to assimilate into the Jackson community as a whole in the same way that they will not do so in Lakewood,” added Board member Joseph Schulman.

Comments such as these, along with many made by residents, were the pretense of a lawsuit subsequently filed in October 2014 by Oros in Ocean County Superior Court.

In October 2015, in a 22-page opinion, Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford upheld the Board's denial of the application and agreed that the Board's fairly determined that "granting the application would substantially undermine the existing characteristics of the rural residential neighborhood."

Regarding the comments made by board members, citing a 2004 Weehawken case, in which the court found that verbal remarks by board members are nothing more than "informal verbalizations of the speaker's transitory thoughts," not the findings by an entire board, Judge Ford concluded: "There is no evidence that bias played any part in the determination of the board or that the board relied on testimony tainted by bias in making its determination."

In June 2017, with the backing of community Religious and financial leaders, Oros reinstated the case by filing an Amended Complaint alleging that by denying the application, the school violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Oros has been represented in this upgraded matter by Premier Religious Land Use attorneys Roman Storzer Esq and Sieglinde Rath Esq  of Storzer & Associates PC, and Donna Jennings Esq of Wilentz, Goldman, & Spitzer PA.

Since that time, Jackson Township officials have dragged out the litigation by refusing to comply with Court-ordered deadlines, leading Oros to file numerous motions to Find them in Contempt of Court.

Finally, the news is in: The Jackson Township Zoning Board has formally signed a Consent Order to settle the matter with Oros.

The Consent Order, obtained by FAA News, states that "the parties have determined to resolve all aspects of the Action without further litigation, controversy, and inconvenience related to the subject matter of the Action, and desire to settle, fully and finally, any and all claims among them... and have reached a voluntary agreement with respect to the disputed items."

The settlement agreement includes a monetary settlement of $1.35 million. The agreement stipulates that, in consideration of this settlement, Oros has agreed to waive any rights to seek compensation from the $150,000 financial settlement the Township is appropriating as part of its settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.

The Township has agreed to permit Oros to construct the school that was part of their Zoning Board application, and to take all reasonable measures to expedite all approvals and inspections so as not to delay construction.

Additionally, the Township has agreed to rezone this property from Rural Residential to Neighborhood Commercial and to not remove any currently permitted uses from the zoning ordinance for at least 10 years. (Under the terms of Jackson's settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, dormitories will be a permitted use in the Neighborhood Commercial district.)

One of the reasons for the original denial of the application was that board members claimed that they can only permit construction of schools which are accredited by the state. As part of the settlement agreement, the Township has acknowledged that there is no such restriction by State law and they will not use this excuse to bar construction of this school.

The Township Council quietly adopted a Resolution on December 13, 2022 to accept the settlement agreement. The Zoning Board quietly accepted the settlement on December 14, 2022.

The full settlement agreement has now been signed by Rabbi Ephraim Birnbaum of Oros, Mayor Mike Reina, and Zoning Board Chairman Scott Najarian. It was formally submitted to the Superior Court and it awaits a final judicial signature.

The financial compensation is to be given to Oros's attorney within 30 days of the judicial signature. The Court will retain jurisdiction of the matter until after a Certificate of Occupancy is issued for the school building. At that point, Oros will voluntarily withdraw the lawsuit.

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