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Jackson Township officials are actively contemplating again amending their land use regulations to make it easier to obtain approvals for shuls, a FAA News investigation reveals.

The matter involves Rabbi Abraham and Hana Matzliach who have filed suit in federal court appealing the Zoning Board's denial of their Use Variance which sought to convert their detached garage into "habitable space."

At one point a number of years, Rabbi Matzliach converted their detached garage into a small shul.

On January 4, 2021, Township Zoning Officer Jeffrey Purpuro issued violations for the changed use without Zoning approval.

In response, the Matzliach's applied for a Zoning Permit to change the use from a private detached garage, to a residential use, which included an indoor recreation area and residential home worship.

The Zoning Official denied the Application, explaining that within the Township a private detached garage is differentiated from an attached garage, and consequently, what the Matzliach's sought was to convert a permitted accessory use and structure into a habitable and/or residential dwelling space, thus creating a second permitted principal use on the same lot.


The Zoning Official denied the Application because a Use Variance - which only the Zoning Board could grant - would be required for the change of use of the detached garage to a use which is not otherwise permitted in the Zone.

The Matzliach's did not immediately file an application to the Zoning Board for a Use Variance. Rather, they filed an application seeking to have the Board review the Zoning Official’s interpretation of the Code.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in April 2023, the Board voted unanimously to uphold the Zoning Officer's determination that the use of a shul is not permitted and requires a Use Variance.

The Board explained that case law has established only that "home worship" is permitted inside of a home and not in a detached garage, especially in Jackson Township where a garage is permitted as an accessory use only for parking and storage.

Subsequently, the Matzliach's submitted an application to the Board for a Use Variance - simply to change the use of his detached garage to habitable space of the residence for "additional living space for the extended family." At the public hearing, there was no mention of any proposed shul use.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Board denied this application, finding that the Matzliach's failed to burden of proof as required for a Use Variance, and that they failed to even identify the positive criteria, let alone satisfy the positive criteria.

In the meantime, as previously reported here on FAA News, as part of the Township's negotiated settlements with the U.S. Department of Justice and Agudath Israel, the Township Council adopted new ordinances which will bring signatures into action and pave the way for shul, schools, dormitories, and mikvahs.

Just weeks later, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Matzliach's, who are represented by Freehold Attorneys Sieglinde K. Rath and Christopher K. Costa, Esq. of Storzer & Associates, P.C., filed a lawsuit in federal court appealing the Zoning Board's denial of their applications.

While at the public hearing they insisted that the habitable space was as "a recreation room for family life," in their lawsuit they are asserting that their application for "daily living space" was intended to "include home worship," as they "pray in this additional home space as part of their daily life."

The Board's denial of their application - which was based on the fact that the garage is detached and therefore only permitted for the accessory uses of parking and storage - "discriminates against religious land use generally and specifically against Orthodox Jewish religious practice," the suit charges.

The complaint further challenges that the Township's new shul ordinance still discriminates against such religious land uses, as compared to nonreligious assembly and/or institutional land uses.

"Accordingly, as with the prior version of the Township’s zoning code, its amended code continues to treat religious land uses differently and worse than various nonreligious assembly and institutional land uses," the complaint alleges.

Township attorneys initially told Judge Robert Kirsch that they would seek dismissal of the major portions of the complaint.

"The Complaint is an attempt to weaponize critical civil rights statutes and protections to bully the Township into granting a (d)(1) variance which was legally and appropriately denied under the MLUL based on the failure to satisfy the long-standing objective standard...

"This is a convenience case, it would be convenient for Plaintiffs to have more room.

"Plaintiffs are not be prohibited from engaging in home worship, nor are they seeking to develop a house of worship. Rather, they desire more space to do so. They are dissatisfied with the size of their home and are choosing to not expand their home which they could do as a matter of right... Rather than increase the size of the residence, they are seeking a re-zoning that requires a variance.

"Given that Plaintiffs have represented that the second structure would not be used for prayer “the vast majority” of the time, this is akin to filing a RLUPIA claim because a dining room addition was denied, and the applicant intended to use the dining room for Christmas and Easter dinner," attorneys Brent R. Pohlman and Ryan Murphy, Esq wrote.

"Any resident that is seeking to renovate a private garage for anything other than its prescribed use must obtain a use variance. The ordinance does not treat religious uses less favorably than non-religious uses, in fact home worship aspect of the application would not impact the decision based on the ordinance structure, it’s the same standard for a boy scout meeting room or bible study," the Township's attorneys added.

However, the Township has held off from formally seeking dismissal of the complaint. Instead, Town officials are actively contemplating amending its land use regulations in a way that may moot the lawsuits claims, FAA News has learned.

More details will be forthcoming as they develop.

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