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The Jackson Township Zoning Board is scheduled this Wednesday to consider 2 shul applications.

Khal Hampshire Hills has applied, by way of a bifurcated application, for conditional-use variance approval, to construct a shul on North County Line Road and Piccadilly Drive.

The Site Plan depicts a driveway fronting Piccadilly Drive with 95 off-street parking spaces.

The architectural plans submitted depict a 2-story building plus a finished basement. The total gross floor area will be 21,575 sq feet. This includes a 4,746 sq foot Beis Medrash and 750 sq foot library on the first floor, a 1,546 sq foot Ezras Noshim and 1,046 sq foot lecture room on the second floor. The basement will be fully finished with a 4,551 sq foot simcha hall, as well as separate mikvas for men and women.

The variances being requested are for primary lot frontage and access from Piccadilly Drive which is a residential street and for the minimum buffer requirement from a residential zone (50 feet is required, 25 feet is provided).

If approved, the shul will later on return to the Board with a major Site Plan application.

The Site Plan depicts Freshwater wetlands on a portion of the property including the parking area. This may require permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The Board is also scheduled to hear an appeal from Ashford Road residents Abraham and Hana Matzliach.

The Matzliach's previously submitted a request to Zoning Officer Jeffrey Purpuro to use their existing detached garage building (on which a 340.05 sq. ft. addition is proposed) as "a recreation area for their family and as an area for home worship."

The garage addition, which is in their rear yard, does not have any existing non-conformities, nor does it seek and bulk variances.

After Mr. Purpuro denied this request, the Matzliach's who are represented by Attorney Christopher K. Costa, Esq of Storzer & Associates, P.C., submitted an appeal to the Township's Zoning Board seeking for them to overturn the zoning officer's decision.

An appeal is different than a standard Zoning Board application which are for Use Variances. According to the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, a Use Variance is an acknowledgement that the use is not permitted under the zoning ordinances, and the applicant seeks an approval on the grounds that they meet the criteria "in particular cases for special reasons." In contrast, an appeal is wholly procedural "where it is alleged by the appellant that there is error in any order, requirement, decision or refusal made by an administrative officer based on or made in the enforcement of the zoning ordinance", and as such, does not relate specifically to the substantive remedies which a board may grant, rather, it is limited to the question of administrative officer error.

Attorney Costa wrote to the Board, "a significant body of case law upholds the right of religious leaders to carry out a broad range of religious activities, including worship services, in their home."

Excluding the family members, the Matzliach's intend to host 20-25 people at their minyanim which would be held only Sunday through Friday, application documents show.

Storzer & Associates, P.C. is the foremost prestigious law firm, of which Journal News has written "they are the best at what they do, which is win religious land-use cases."

New Jersey case law has established that an applicant wishing to appeal from a decision of the zoning officer must generally avail himself of the right to appeal the officer's decision to the Zoning Board before resorting to filing a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking to compel municipal action. However, this is not an absolute rule. The Appellate Division in 21st Century vs. D'Alessandro found that when the questions involved are strictly legal in nature, it may be permitted to run straight to court.

Such has occurred - and worked - in Jackson Township before.

In December 2021, Jackson homeowner Yaakov Feinstein sued the Township in Superior Court after Zoning Officer Jeffrey Purpuro denied an application to install a mikvah as an "accessory use" to a single family home on South Cooks Bridge Road on the basis that the mikvah "appeared to be a commercial spa which was not permitted in the residential zone."

Attorney Donna Jennings countered in a lawsuit that the Township's own zoning ordinances define "commercial" as something which is "made or done for sale or profit", which the homeowner was not proposing for his mikvah.

The lawsuit also noted that the mikvah should be permitted as an "accessory use" as the Township's zoning ordinances for this zoning district permit "other customary accessory uses, buildings and structures which are clearly incidental to the principal use and building", and in this case the mikvah will be incidental to the residential home as it will be built completely inside the dwelling and from the outside the structure will not appear any different from any other residential dwelling on the block.

Ms. Jennings charged in the complaint, "Defendant's actions were motivated by religious and racial animus. The failure to grant the application is part of a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the Township, a hostility toward Orthodox Jews shared by many both in the Township government and in its population and in its local population and local resident groups who are hostile to the movement of Orthodox Jews into the Township."

The lawsuit cited the numerous other anti-Semitism lawsuits which have been filed against Jackson Township, which shows that "Town officials have a practice of denying land use applications and permits submitted by Orthodox Jewish residents", and that this practice "disproportionately affects Orthodox Jewish residents."

Due to this practice, and because this appeal of whether a mikvah is an accessory use to a residential home and whether it's protected under RLUIPA is based on a determination of law and not fact, the Plaintiff's feel it is futile to seek a review of the zoning officer's determination from the Zoning Board, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit did not seek monetary damages, but rather for the Court to overturn the zoning officer's determination and remand the application back to the Township for an approval.

Either way, this lawsuit worked because super speedy quickly Jackson Township officials did an about faced and settled the matter accordingly!

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