Faced with a strong show of opposition from its Orthodox residents, the Jackson town council delayed voting on an ordinance that would ban the construction of school dormitories. The measure has engendered controversy as many see it as aimed at curtailing the recent influx of Jewish families as the borders of the neighboring Lakewood community rapidly expand.
The decision to temporarily pull the proposal came during a council meeting, which although open to the public, typically does not draw large crowds. The presence of roughly 150 Orthodox Jackson residents who came to voice their protest Tuesday night seems to have had a direct impact on the council’s decision to reconsider the ban.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, told Hamodia that upon learning of the proposal, he and several Jackson residents consulted with Harav Malkiel Kotler, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Lakewood’s Bais Medrash Govoha, who encouraged the community to turn out en masse to oppose the proposal.
“This has nothing to do with dormitories, this is about stopping frum people from moving to Jackson. There’s no one else who would be building dormitories there,” said Rabbi Schnall. “When 150 people show up to a meeting, it makes a strong impression, and that’s what we thought the situation called for.”
According to one attendee, the council was clearly caught by surprise by the turnout and made an unscheduled break in the middle of the meeting, seemingly to discuss among themselves how to proceed. Ultimately, an announcement was made that a technical error had been made and that the ordinance would have to be reviewed by the planning board before a vote on its implementation.
Chaim Bornstein, one of several Orthodox Jackson residents to testify at the proceedings, said that since he moved to Jackson his neighbors have been exceedingly friendly and “constantly offer helping hands,” but that the dorm ban revealed another side of the town.
“The motive [for the ordinance] coveys a message that Jews are not wanted in Jackson. It’s insulting, it’s un-Jackson, and it’s un-American,” he said.
Attorney Glenda Rath addressed the council on behalf of the law firm of Storzer and Greene, which specializes in cases relating to religious discrimination in land use.
She labeled the proposal “thinly veiled discrimination” that would not hold up in courts.
This is not the first time that dormitory construction has become a point of contention between the Orthodox community and residents of areas surrounding Lakewood. Last year, a federal appeals court overturned a decision by Ocean Township to block construction by Yeshivah Naos Yaakov. The yeshivah argued that its denial was based on religious animus, supported by a plethora of anti-Jewish statements found on the website of a group opposing the construction.
Yet, several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting testified that the ordinance has nothing to do with regulating who moves to the town and is only designed to preserve Jackson’s suburban atmosphere.
“To my friends in the Orthodox community, we welcome you, this is not meant to target you … but this is a suburban community which is not equipped to handle this [type of land use],” said Joseph Sullivan. “This is a sound ordinance aimed at not allowing the type of substandard building we have seen in other towns and the majority of people support it.”
Rabbi Schnall said that after the meeting, in conversation with council members, “some” seemed open to the arguments presented and said that the matter was being reconsidered.
A request for comment to the president of Jackson’s town council was not returned in time for publication.