Ocean Township and Jewish Boarding School Battle, Religion Should Be Removed From the Discussion and Neighborhood Character the Focus
April 26, 2016
For the second time, a zoning board in Ocean Township New Jersey has denied a permit for a 96 bed boarding school. The Mayor of the community argue that it will change the face of a residential community. The school administrators claim that the purpose of the institution is to seclude the residents, ages 18-22, from the distractions of modern life. The students will not be permitted to leave the premises or even open the windows.
It is hard to argue, value judgments withstanding, that such an institution would not resemble a prison, reform school or mental institution. Technically it would be similar to a small college, though wholly unregulated. It’s likely not consistent with the personality of the neighborhood and would not be regardless of racial, religious or ethnic purpose.
“Prior to the judge’s order, the application had gone through more than a year’s worth of public meetings, that at times drew crowds of more than 1,000 residents. A July 15, 2015, meeting was adjourned after the township’s fire marshal said the high school’s auditorium was at more than max capacity.
The meetings were then moved to the school’s gymnasium, and also simulcast on a television screen in the cafeteria.
Residents have said the Yeshiva school will change the makeup of the family-oriented neighborhood and drive down property values. The applicant has contended that the students will be isolated to the property, and focus solely on their Talmudic studies.
The school, located at 1515 Logan Road, is currently a Yeshiva day school. Applications to turn it into a boarding school have been submitted in past years, but were withdrawn.
The school is temporarily located in Lakewood, home to the nation’s largest Yeshiva school and a booming Orthodox Jewish population.
The Yeshiva’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Lessin, has said that he wants the school to be permanently located in Ocean Township, located about 20 miles north of Lakewood, so that the students don’t get distracted by friends and family.
On Monday night, Zoning Board officials repeatedly stated that their opposition to the application has never been about religion, and is more about the intensity of the application and the restrictions that would be placed on the 96 students.
In a statement read at the meeting, Chairman Warren Goode said the restrictions that would be on the students — no smoking, outdoor activities, the windows must be closed at all times — are “at best difficult to enforce.”
During the public portion of the meeting, a couple Ocean Township residents compared the restrictions to that of a jail.
“I think prisoners in jail have more rights than these young men,” said Irene Roake, an Ocean Township resident.
But attorneys representing the applicant contend the application is protected under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, or RLUIPA, which protects religious organizations from being discriminated against in zoning and landmark cases.”