Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov, Inc. (the “Yeshiva”) has filed a federal lawsuit against the Township of Ocean, New Jersey and the Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment following the denial of an application to develop a yeshiva with boarding facilities for 96 male students between the ages 18 and 22 in a residential zone, to allow for advanced Talmudic study (the “School”). Reportedly, the property had previously been used as a boarding school. The Yeshiva states that it currently leases space in Lakewood, New Jersey to provide classrooms for its students and living facilities, but it is only able to house one-third of all its students, and its lease is set to expire without the possibility of renewal.
The Yeshiva had applied for a use variance, associated bulk variances and site plan approval for the School, but the Board of Adjustment denied the application after conducting 9 hearings over the course of a year and a half. According to the Yeshiva, the stated basis for the denial was that “the Board does not find that the Applicant established special reasons cognizable by the Board of Adjustment of the Township of Ocean [and that] the granting of a use variance for the use as proposed would cause substantial detriment to the public good and would substantially impair the intent and purposes of the Zoning Ordinance or the Zoning Plan.”
Throughout its 79 page complaint, the Yeshiva notes significant opposition to its application, and relies on Facebook comments by community members and even the mayor, which is asserts show religious hostility. It also asserts that Board members demonstrated religious bias through comments during the 9 hearings, some of which had over 1,000 people in attendance. According to the Yeshiva, “religious land use is prohibited throughout Ocean Township for two separate reasons. First, religious schools for adults beyond Grade 12 are not permitted anywhere in the Township’s jurisdiction; and second, because boarding schools are restricted to students under 18 years of age in the two zoning districts, including the R-4 district, where boarding schools are permitted.”
The Yeshiva alleges violations of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act’s substantial burden, equal terms, unreasonable limits/total exclusion, and nondiscrimination provisions. It also claims that the Township and the Board violated the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses, the Fair Housing Act, and New Jersey law.
The Yeshiva’s lawyer has stated that the Board’s actions are “bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple. The situation that the Yeshiva has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA’s protections are necessary.”
The complaint in Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov, Inc. v. Township of Ocean, New Jersey (D. N.J. 2015) is available here.