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In 2017, Jackson Mayor Mike Reina signed two ordinances into law. Those ordinances, the subject of multiple litigation, have cost taxpayers nearly $5 million, FAA News has learned.

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.

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. Jean Cipriani Esq. was the Township Attorney.

The first ones to hit the Township was Agudath Israel of America and W.R. Properties.

On May 10, 2017, within the 45 day time limit to sue in court to overturn ordinances, Agudath Israel and W.R. Properties filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey seeking to overturn the ordinances. 

The complaint challenged the new zoning regulations, asserting that they are intended to prevent Orthodox Jews from opening schools or dormitories in Jackson. The suit alleges that the regulations were enacted with the express purpose of such anti-Orthodox discrimination, and are in clear violation of Federal law.

The lawsuit contends that the regulations were clearly motivated by a desire to prevent Orthodox Jews from moving to Jackson, and “by discriminatory animus against the Orthodox Jewish community.”

The suit cited a number of examples of such animus, expressed by public officials and by vocal segments of the public.

The complaint alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection, Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses and Freedom of Association principles; four clauses of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000; the Fair Housing Act; and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Subsequently, the Township Council adopted Ordinance 20-17 which was intended to prevent the construction of eruvim within the Township. At that point, Agudath Israel amended their complaint to include this new ordinance as well.

Second up was Oros Bais Yaakov.

In mid-2014, the Jackson Zoning Board denied Oros's application for a Use Variance so they could construct a school. 

In October 2014, Oros filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County alleging that this decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.

Their lawsuit highlighted certain comments made by the Board members regarding their application.

In October 2015, in a 22-page opinion, Judge Marlene 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."

In June 2017, - coming off the heals of the newly enacted zoning ordinances - 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.

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."

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for 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.

Finally,  in April 2021, the Civil Rights Division within the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General filed a civil rights lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County, alleging that Jackson Township authorities, through ordinances and enforcement actions, violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by using their zoning powers to regulate land use and housing and make it harder for Orthodox Jews to practice their religion and to deter them from moving there.

The State’s complaint alleges the Jackson’s adoption of discriminatory zoning ordinances and enforcement practices was motivated in part by officials’ desire to appease Township residents who reacted to the Township’s growing Orthodox Jewish population by expressing hate and fear on social media, in complaints to Township officials, and in public meetings.

First, Township officials allegedly engaged in targeted and discriminatory surveillance of the homes of Orthodox Jews suspected of hosting communal prayer gatherings. Jackson’s zoning code requires permits for places of worship, but there are constitutional limits on municipalities’ ability to use their zoning authority to restrict the free exercise of religion, and government officials cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.

Second, the complaint alleges that Jackson Township officials engaged in discriminatory application of land use laws to inhibit the erection of sukkahs by the Township’s Jewish residents, particularly in their front yards.

According to the complaint, after residents began to question and complain about the appearance of sukkahs, Jackson Township officials modified their interpretation of a local ordinance to effectively prohibit sukkahs in front yards. The complaint alleges that the Township’s new enforcement policy discriminated against Jewish residents.

Third, Jackson officials allegedly discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting zoning ordinances in 2017 that essentially banned the establishment of yeshivas and dormitories.

Fourth, the complaint alleges that Jackson discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting a 2017 zoning ordinance that targeted and effectively banned the creation of eruvim.

The State’s complaint asked the court to find that each of the challenged zoning practices violates the Law Against Discrimination, to issue an order prohibiting Jackson Township’s discrimination against the Orthodox Jewish community, and to impose civil penalties, among other relief.

Ultimately, due to all this litigation, the ordinances were repealed.

They cost the taxpayers quite a pretty penny.

Approximately $5 million in fact.

In June 2022, the U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement with the Township. This settlement includes $195,000 of a civil penalty and settlement fund.

In January 2023, Oros reached a settlement with the Township. The settlement includes $1,350,000 ($1.35 million) in financial compensation and the right to construct the school.

In August 2023, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office reached a settlement with the Township. The settlement includes $275,000 in penalties, a $150,000 restitution fund for individuals harmed by the Township’s actions, and an additional $150,000 in suspended penalties that will be assessed if the Township violates the consent order.

More recently, Agudath Israel and W.R. Properties reached a settlement with the Township. The settlement includes payment of $2.2 million.

All together, this equals $4,320,000 ($4.32 million).

The Township has also needed to pay for their own legal fees.

Jean Cipriani represented the Township from the commencement of the first litigation in 2017 until the beginning of 2019. Marci Hamilton took over but didn't last long. Howard Mankoff - Marshall Dennehey then took over the case. For the past 2 years, Brent Pohlman - Mandelbaum Barrett PC has been the lead counsel in all the litigation.

All together, the legal fees plus the settlements have cost the Township approximately $5 million.

And Mike Reina remains the mayor.

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Anonymous said...

In Lakewood, it's the opposite.
The right people have the connections to do literately anything they want regardless of the zoning, inconvenience to others, safety, etc.

So you can pick and choose.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Mike Reina and everyone behind him who is involved will be judged when the investigations are handed down.U.S. Justice Department nor did the New Jersey Attorney General's Office file any lawsues against Jackson Township.Its all a hoax and made up.