Jackson Township's Council tonight unanimously voted to introduce an Ordinance which will completely repeal 3 ordinances the Council adopted in 2017.

Tonight's move comes as part of the Township's settlement with litigation filed by Agudath Israel.

On March 14, 2017, Jackson Township's Council adopted ordinance 03-17 which limited private schools as a permitted use in only one zone, in which there happened to be not much usable space available for building the permitted schools (plus, the lot area requirement in that zone was 500 acres), and banned dormitories in all zones.

The council also adopted ordinance 04-17, which expressly stated that dormitories are not a permitted use in any zone, effectively completely banning dormitories from getting built in their township unless you would be granted a use variance from their zoning board.

(Effectively, the Council adopted 2 ordinances which both ban dormitories, one of the ordinances additionally bans private schools).

At the time, the council included Council President Rob Nixon, and members Kenneth Bressi, Bary Calogero, Ann Updegrave, and Scott Martin. Mayor Mike Reina signed the ordinances into law.

Within the 45 day time limit to sue in court to overturn ordinances, in May 2017 Agudath Israel of America filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the ordinances. The case was sent to mediation and Jackson Township shlepped things out, clearly showing that they were not a willing party to sit and discuss the matter.

At the end of 2018, Council Members Ann Updegrave and Scott Martin retired from office, and were replaced by Andrew Kern and Alexander Sauickie III. In November 2019, amidst this lawsuit and other anti-Semitism claims, Council President Rob Nixon suddenly resigned from office. Barry Calogero inherited his seat. In January 2020, Martin Flemming was chosen by the other council members to fill Nixon's empty seat.

On May 6, 2020, Barry Calogero, who had just made headlines for suggesting that the National Guard should come protect Jackson from the Coronavirus that was then spreading in neighboring Lakewood, announced his resignation effective May 13th.

Calogero was absent from the May 12th meeting, which was attended by Council Vice President Alex Sauickie and members Kenneth Bressi, Andrew Kern, and Martin Flemming.

At that meeting, the council introduced ordinance 05-20 to repeal ordinance 03-17, and make "private or parochial schools not operated for profit" into a permitted use in many zones. The ordinance delineated that "public and private colleges or universities shall not be permitted." They also introduced ordinance 06-20 to repeal ordinance 04-17 "in its entirety" which would remove dormitories from the prohibited use list.

For both ordinances, Mr. Kern offered the motion, Mr. Fleming offered the second; Mr's Flemming, Kern, and Sauickie voted in support of the ordinances, and Mr. Bressi abstained from voting on either ordinances.

Council members stated on the record that they were not the same members who adopted the 2017 Ordinances, and they announced that both ordinances will be placed on their May 26th meeting agenda for adoption on final reading.

Amazingly, a mere two weeks later, on May 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Jackson Township and its planning board alleging they "violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by targeting the Orthodox Jewish community through zoning ordinances restricting religious schools and barring religious boarding schools."

(RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.)

The complaint, filed in the District of New Jersey, alleged that the township passed ordinances 03-17 and 04-17, and the planning board applied those ordinances in a manner that discriminated against the Orthodox Jewish community. Both ordinances expressly prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools such as Orthodox Jewish yeshivas to operate there. Although Jackson passed these ordinances to prevent dormitories anywhere in Jackson, the planning board has since approved, without requiring a variance, the plans for two nonreligious projects with dormitory-type housing.

The complaint further alleged that the township and planning board enacted the ordinances against a backdrop of extreme animus by some Jackson residents and township decision makers toward the Orthodox Jewish community and a movement by residents to keep Orthodox Jewish individuals from settling in Jackson. The complaint alleges that the township and planning board’s actions towards the Orthodox Jewish community violate RLUIPA’s non-discrimination and equal terms provisions, as well as the FHA.

Seemed that the simplest fix would have been for the Township Council to show up at their next meeting on May 26 and vote, as scheduled, on their 2 repeal ordinances which were all shiny and ready to go, right? Except that this was Jackson Township where apparently things just can't be that simple.

On May 26, 2020, the council only adopted Ordinance 05-20, noting that the 2017 dormitory ban was actually "redundant," because that ordinance specifically listed dormitories as a non-permitted use, when in fact, prior to the March 14, 2017 adoption of their ban, dormitories were anyways not a permitted use. Hence, it was redundant to specify that it was a non-permitted use.

However, they tabled voting on Ordinance 06-20 and said they were holding that until their June 23, 2020 meeting.

They also commented on the Justice Department's lawsuit, saying it "contained many inaccuracies."

June 23rd came and went and the council did not bother to vote on Ordinance 06-20, effectively freely giving the Justice Department a green light to charge forth with their lawsuit.

After dragging things out in court for 2 full years, on June 15, 2022, Jackson Township and the Justice Department signed a Consent Decree whereby they agreed to settle the lawsuit by Jackson Township repealing the remaining active discriminatory 03-17 ordinance and "replace it with an ordinance that will allow religious elementary and secondary schools, religious higher learning institutions and religious residential schools in numerous residential and other zoning districts, and permitting associated housing such as dormitories as an accessory to private, parochial, and public schools in certain zoning districts."

The consent order specifies that the new zoning ordinance is required to treat religious schools equally with non-religious institutions that operate in the Township.

The order also enjoins Jackson Township and its Planning Board from "imposing or implementing a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms than a nonreligious assembly or institution; discriminating against any religious assembly or institution, or their members, on the basis of religion or religious denomination; otherwise engaging in any conduct that violates RLUIPA and/or the FHA; coercing, intimidating, threatening, interfering with, or retaliating against any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his or her having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by RLUIPA and/or the FHA; and discriminating in the sale or rental, or otherwise making unavailable or denying dwellings, because of religion."

The Consent Order was signed and announced by both parties on June 15, 2022. It was signed by a judge on July 7, 2022.

To date, the Township has not yet adopted an Ordinance that will allow religious elementary and secondary schools, religious higher learning institutions and religious residential schools in numerous residential and other zoning districts, and permitting associated housing such as dormitories as an accessory to private, parochial, and public schools in certain zoning districts.

Prior to the settlement with the Justice Department, 

In May 2021, Agudath Israel received a preliminary injunction temporarily striking down Ordinance 03-17.

Tonight, as part of a full settlement with Agudath Israel, the Council introduced an Ordinance to completely repeal 03-17 and 04-17.

The Council also introduced an Ordinance to completely repeal Ordinance 20-17 which limited placing Eiruvin in rights-of-way.

As previously reported here on FAA News, as part of their settlement with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, the Township Council has already agreed not to enforce Ordinance 20-17.

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1 comment:

Chaim Kleinman said...

Was this major settlement done this week purposely to help Avi Schnall's election campaign?