Lawsuits claiming Toms River tried to stop the still active Orthodox

TOMS RIVER — Two lawsuits alleging the township “engaged in an orchestrated campaign” to prevent the Orthodox Jewish population from expanding into Toms River remain active in federal court, with one going to trial.

Complaints against Toms River and the township’s zoning board by two Orthodox Jewish congregations—Khal Anshei and Bais Brucha—challenged the township’s 10-acre minimum requirement for building a place of worship.

The lawsuits were filed shortly before the township and the federal Department of Justice reached an agreement on a settlement that reduced the amount of land needed to build a 10-acre place of worship to two.

The zoning change also allowed places of worship in the rural residential area that makes up most of North Dover, where the two Orthodox Jewish congregations are located. Prior to the zoning change, places of worship were not a permitted use in rural residential areas, although a congregation could acquire 10 acres of land.

Watch the video above to see attorney Marci Hamilton discuss the township settlement with the Department of Justice.

Both congregations, along with Rabbi Mordechai Sekula, claimed that “a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the Toms River government and its people” has led the township to take “numerous targeted actions against Orthodox Jews in recent years. “.

Two Orthodox rabbis are suing Toms River Township for not letting them develop their properties as shuls.  2527 Whitesville Road.  Toms River, NJ Monday, March 1, 2021

Sekula was forced to hold services for Bais Brucha members in the basement of his Hickory Street home, while Khal Anshei members met in a makeshift shul in the basement of a rented house in the Tallymawr district, according to the lawsuits.

According to Christopher K. Costa, a Hamilton attorney who serves as a local councilor for both congregations.

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Khal Anshei proposed a 4,500 square foot synagogue to serve Orthodox Jewish residents in the Tallymawr development, while Sekula proposed to build a 4,680 square foot synagogue on the Hickory Street land.

The lawsuits, citing both state and federal civil rights protections, alleged that the township’s land use ordinances discriminate against religion and cite protections afforded by both the U.S. Constitution and federal land use law. Religious Lands and Institutionalized Persons (RLUIPA).

The lawsuits ask the court to strike down the township’s religious zoning restrictions and allow shuls to be built on the Whitesville Road and Hickory Street lands.

The township and Bais Brucha are in negotiations to settle the lawsuit, according to court documents.

Two Orthodox rabbis are suing Toms River Township for not letting them develop their properties as shuls.  The undeveloped lot at 1181 Hickory Street.  Toms River, NJ Monday, March 1, 2021

“The parties are making progress, but believe that assistance from the court could be helpful in advancing settlement efforts, and the parties may be available to conference with the court to discuss this,” Bais’ attorney wrote. Brucha, Robin Pick, in a January 31 letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Goodman.

Both parties are expected to participate in a conference call with Goodman next week.

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In the Khal Anshei case, U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson dismissed part of the case, allowing the congregation to sue for damages it says it suffered from being forced to rent space to hold services.

Khal Anshei had asked the court to order the township to grant a permit authorizing the construction of a synagogue in Tallymawr to serve the Orthodox Jewish community.

But Thompson said the congregation can apply for a waiver to build the shul now that township zoning regulations have been amended to allow places of worship as a conditional use in the rural residential area where Tallymawr is located.

The two sides in the Khal Anshei case have a conference call scheduled for later this month to establish a production schedule for the materials needed for discovery.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), passed by Congress in July 2000 and signed into law later that year by President Bill Clinton, prohibits cities from enforcing land use regulations lands that impose a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, “absent a compelling justification” that the restriction serves a government interest.

Khal Anshei and Bais Brucha are represented by Washington, DC, law firm Storza & Associates, which represented Rabbi Moshe Gourarie and Chabad of Toms River in his RLUIPA lawsuit against the township.

In March 2016, Gourarie filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the township and zoning board, blaming “anti-Semitic hostility” and local opposition to the township’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish population as reasons. for which the council demanded a Chabad waiver. .

That same year, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into Toms River’s zoning laws regarding land use for religious purposes.

In 2018, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the township’s Board of Adjustment violated the law by forcing Gourarie to obtain a use waiver to continue operating the Chabad Jewish Center at his Church Road home.

The judge allowed Gourarie to continue operating Chabad and also demanded that Toms River pay him $122,500, mostly for legal fees.

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This Justice Department investigation was closed after Gourarie’s lawsuit was settled.

But in December 2018, the Justice Department opened a new investigation into Toms River’s religious zoning laws. That case was closed last March after the township council agreed to review Toms River’s zoning laws regarding religious land use.

The township recently agreed to mediate in another RLUIPA case, involving Toms River’s purchase of a former egg farm on Highway 9.

Jean Mikle has covered Toms River and several other towns in Ocean County, and has been writing about local government and politics on the Jersey Shore for nearly 38 years, and is also passionate about the legendary music scene on the coast. Contact her: @jeanmikle, , [email protected]