JUST IN: Jackson Township Council Adopts Historic Ordinances on Second Reading

The Jackson Township Council voted tonight to adopt a set of ordinances making it significantly easier for the Orthodox Jewish community to establish schools, dormitories, eruvim and Mikvaos in the municipality.

Tonight’s vote, which passed 3-1-1, comes after last week’s scheduled vote was postponed due to a crowd of over 200 people who showed up to the council meeting, creating a fire hazard, which forced the meeting to be adjourned.

The ordinances, which had their first hearing in October, were approved tonight by a unanimous vote, are the result of over seven years of litigation between Agudath Israel of America and the Jackson Township Council.

In 2017, Agudath Israel filed a lawsuit in the New Jersey District Court against the Council, claiming the Council had deliberately passed zoning regulations making it impossible for Orthodox Jews to build schools and dormitories, houses of worship, eruvs, and mikvas in violation of the RLUIPA law, a federal law that prohibits local zoning boards from imposing or implementing overly restrictive zoning and other land use regulations that significantly affect the free religious exercise of a person, assembly, or institution. 

The Agudah lawsuit was in addition to a similar lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in 2020 which accused the Township and Planning Board of violating the RLUIPA law, as well as the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Last year, Jackson Township agreed to resolve the United States’ claims against the Township and Planning Board by entering into a Consent Order which requires that the Township repeal the 2017 Ordinance and replace it with an ordinance permitting schools, and associated housing, such as dormitories, in certain zoning districts.

In addition, the township agreed to pay $575,000 in penalties and restitution.

And just last week, according to a consent order filed in United States District Court, Jackson Township will be required to pay $2.2 million in legal fees to the Agudah and a local developer, which will go toward the group’s legal fees.

Ironically, the current council members have all joined the council only after the offending ordinances were adopted, including councilman Mordy Burnstein, who became the first orthodox Jewish member of the council when he was chosen to fill a vacancy last month.

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