Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov v. Ocean Twp., N.J.
04/04/2016: News reports on Ocean Township yeshiva lawsuit
The March 17 order by the federal court for the District of New Jersey resulted from litigation brought by Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov against Ocean and its zoning board of adjustment, claiming they had violated the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution, as well as the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and Fair Housing Act, by placing an undue burden on the yeshiva. Because the board allowed hearings on the yeshiva’s use variance to go on for 511 days, exceeding the state maximum requirement of 120 days, Judge Freda L. Wolfson ordered hearings be held April 5 and 25, when another vote must be taken on the yeshiva’s application. The meetings will be held at Ocean Township High School in Oakhurst at 7 p.m. and will run no later than midnight.
The court also placed additional restrictions on the hearings, including that the zoning board be prohibited from presenting testimony from professional witnesses, that the attorney representing several opposing residents be limited to no more than three professional witnesses, and that no unrepresented member of the public be allowed to cross-examine witnesses. In addition, the court is requiring that testimony from unrepresented members of the public will be limited to no more than five minutes each and total no more than two hours over the course of the two meetings. Residents living within 200 feet of the property will be given first priority to speak.
Storzer said he “was hopeful the zoning board would do the right thing,” but left open the option of returning to federal court should it again be denied.
D. Rubin, "Yeshiva dorm denial overturned by court," New Jersey Jewish News (Apr. 4, 2016)
"The federal legislation supersedes the municipal land use laws," [Board Attorney] Steinberg told a hundred or more people in attendance. "The applicant had the burden to prove an inherently beneficial use outweighs the detriment. This decision reverses that. . . ."
D. Radel, "Crowd, opposition greet Yeshiva group," Asbury Park Press (Apr. 7, 2016)
03/17/2016: Federal court orders Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to vote on Yeshiva application by April 25
On March 17, 2016, the federal court for the District of New Jersey issued an order in the litigation brought by Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov against the Township of Ocean and its Zoning Board of Adjustment. The order requires the Board to hold hearings on April 5 and April 25 (limited to a total of ten hours), and to vote on the matter on the latter date. The court further limited an attorney representing objectors to five hours to present his case, and unrepresented objectors to five minutes of testimony each, with a total of two hours. As the Yeshiva's Complaint, filed on January 8, 2016, had stated:
Ocean Township residents opposed to the Yeshiva packed Board hearings in order to delay the application, shut down proceedings because of capacity limitations, and prolonged proceedings with lengthy, repetitive, irrelevant and improper testimony and questioning of Yeshiva’s witnesses. This animus resulted in the Board’s protracted 511-day review of the Yeshiva’s use variance application, far beyond the statutory requirement of 120 days under New Jersey law. The Board also refused to place reasonable restrictions on objector questioning and testimony, and refused to schedule sufficient hearings to render a timely decision. The Yeshiva had repeatedly consented to continuations of the Board’s hearings on the application, but could not continue to consent to proceedings that were going to continue for at least one to two more years while its temporary facilities are soon going to become unavailable. This led to the Board’s ultimate denial “without prejudice,” where it refused to deny the use variance on its merits but stated that it was unwilling to render such a decision without granting the objectors unlimited time to oppose the application, New Jersey law notwithstanding.
The Order is available here.
An attorney representing the Yeshiva, Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, said he is optimistic the Board will approve the variance. "Although the Board proceedings continued far too long without justification, we are looking forward finally to their conclusion," Storzer said in an email on Thursday. "We're hopeful that the Board will do the right thing and approve this use."
N.J. Advance Media (Mar. 17, 2016). S&G's media release is available here.
01/21/2016: "Yeshiva applicant fights back with lawsuit"
A lawsuit is the result of the abrupt conclusion last month to the highly scrutinized proposal for a Jewish college and dormitory. Attorneys representing the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov’s filed suit against the Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Ocean Township Council on Jan. 8, citing a civil rights violation and discrimination after the board rejected the application for a 96-student Jewish university.
K. Walter, "Yeshiva applicant fights back with lawsuit," Atlanticville (Jan. 21, 2016)
01/13/2016: Media reports on Yeshiva lawsuit against Ocean Township
The lawsuit said the residents' efforts to pack the meetings, causing further delays in the application process, were fueled by "unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men." It also says anti-Semitic undertones were displayed on several social media websites and in the comment sections of news organizations.
For example, in a comment on a petition created on change.org, someone expressed fear that Ocean Township could turn into Lakewood, an Ocean County township with a large Orthodox Jewish population. "I owned property in Lakewood NJ for 24 years," the commenter wrote. "Orthodox Jewish landlords made life a living hell for me there! I would hate to see this repeated in Ocean!" Another commenter said, "There are plenty of other places for radical religious schools."
"This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple," said Roman P. Storzer, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the applicant. "The situation that the Yeshiva has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA's protections are necessary."
A. Napoliello, "Yeshiva sues Shore town after denial of boarding school application," NJ Advance (Jan. 11, 2016).
The December vote concluded over a year of boisterous hearings, including a July meeting where over 1,000 community members packed the Ocean Township High School auditorium, exceeding the capacity and forcing the board to adjourn.
The complaint said residents opposed to the yeshiva packed the Zoning Board hearings in order to delay the application, shut down proceedings becaues of capacity limitations and prolonged proceedings with "lengthy, repetitive, irrelevant and improper testimony and questioning of yeshiva's witnesses."
The result, the complaint states, was an application that dragged on for 511 days, nearly four times the statutory limit of 120 days.
D. Radel, "Yeshiva group files suit against Ocean Township," Asbury Park Press (Jan. 11, 2016).
"Yeshiva Files RLUIPA Action Against New Jersey Township," Religious Clause (Jan. 12, 2016).
The applicant has decided to take the decision to court. On January 8, 2016, through the firm of Storzer & Greene, Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov filed suit against Ocean Township, N.J. and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's zoning regulations and Board's denial of the Yeshiva's variance application to use an existing school building, the Talmudic academy was filed in federal district court alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the Fair Housing Act. The firm said Yeshiva is also represented by New Jersey attorney Donna M. Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A.
The court complaint says the Yeshiva needs a religious school, and the Township's zoning laws completely prohibit religious education throughout the Township for students over 18 years of age, while permitting other adult education institutions.
It also describes what it cites as a long litany of examples of the substantial hostility faced by the Yeshiva during the variance application proceedings. The court filing says hearings were confronted with descriptions of the applicant as "religious zealots," "[s]cumbags," "dirty" and "Long coat gangsters," and accused of being "a different breed; the women are sub species and their ways are cultish, . . . ."
The Complaint as described in a Storzer & Greene statement that "many Ocean Township residents hold animus toward the Orthodox Jewish community in nearby Lakewood, New Jersey," that the "Ocean Township community . . . engaged in a concerted effort to 'pack' the hearings [and] delay proceedings," and this "hostility by many residents of Ocean Township includes unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men."
J. Kearns, "Yeshiva Files Federal Complaint in Ocean Township School Application Denial," Word on the Shore (Jan. 13, 2016)
The Yeshiva Gedola application is the third attempt to establish a yeshiva in Ocean Township. The previous two applications, filed in 2010, were similarly denied in the face of “community resistance.”
M. Rephun, "Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment Sued for Denying Yeshiva Application, "Jewish Political News & Updates (Jan. 12, 2016).
01/08/2016: Yeshiva files suit against Ocean Township for boarding school ban and variance denial
On January 8, 2016, the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov filed suit in federal district court against Ocean Township, N.J. and the Township's Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's laws regulating schools and the denial of the Yeshiva's use variance application under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Fair Housing Act. The Yeshiva is represented by S&G and the firm of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A. A media release is available here and the Complaint is located here.
08/06/2015: Article examines hostility to Ocean Township, N.J. Yeshiva application
Signs line the streets in the Wanamassa section of Ocean stating, “No Dorm on Logan Road.” According to some, the signs might as well say, “No Jews on Logan Road.” “Those paying attention know that when people hear that it is an Orthodox Jewish school, their reflex is to say, ‘No way,’” an activist told Matzav.com. “The residents will not admit it publicly, but it is pretty transparent,”
Ocean is no stranger to schools and students. In fact, it houses students from nearby Monmouth University. But locals are opposed to a use variance sought by Yeshiva Na’os Yaakov for a 96-student boarding school on 1515 Logan Road.
Residents are showing up to the hearings in droves, NJ.com reports. The last three board meetings had to be moved to Ocean Township High School to accommodate the large crowds.
The residents don’t talk about the Jewish nature of the yeshiva. Instead they say that “the new school will drive down their property value and alter the makeup of the area,” despite offering no proof of either claim. Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, a firm that represents religious organizations in zoning and land use cases, said the applicant has satisfied all of the relevant land use interests, such as traffic, noise and environmental concerns. “They would also be renovating the property, making it much more harmonious,” Storzer said, according to NJ.com.
Gavriel Sitrit, "Residents of Ocean, NJ, Doing All They Can to Keep Out Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal’s Yeshiva," Matzav.com Newscenter (Aug. 6, 2015)
08/05/2015: S&G client Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov faces opposition to its educational facilitiy in Ocean Township, N.J.
A Jewish educational institution seeking to use an existing school facility as a boarding school for Jewish scholars aged 18 to 22 faces fierce opposition from the local community. New Jersey Advance Media reports that "[r]esidents say that the new school will drive down their property value and alter the makeup of the area." "[R]esidents are showing up to the hearings in droves," opposing the application.
Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, a firm that represents religious organizations in zoning and land use cases said the applicant has satisfied all of the relevant land use interests, such as traffic, noise and environmental concerns.
They would also be renovating the property, making it much more harmonious [with the neighborhood]," Storzer said.
He said the fact that opposition remains strong among the residents suggests their concerns go above the building itself.
Storzer also pointed to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, commonly known as RLUIPA, which protects religious organizations from being discriminated against in zoning and landmark cases.
A. Napoliello, "Neighborhood fights to keep out Jewish boarding school," NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (Aug. 5, 2015)