Jackson Poised to Repeal School and Dorm Ban
Jackson’s town council began what seems to be a process to end the ongoing litigation it faces over ordinances widely seen as aimed at limiting the growth of its Orthodox community.
Last week, in a livestreamed meeting, its board voted to introduce a bill which would repeal a controversial measure that banned the construction of new schools and dormitories in Jackson. The measure was approved by three council members with one, Ken Bressi, abstaining.
Many citizens attending the meeting remotely criticized the move, saying that the ongoing social distancing guidelines makes public comment difficult. Others defended the original stated intentions of the ordinance. Yet Jackson’s attorney, Gregory McGuckin, said the laws were unnecessary, as any applications would have to meet with preexisting zoning regulations anyway, and the town’s books already have rules in place likely to prohibit such uses.
The ordinance was passed in 2017 at a moment of high tension between Jackson’s government and some vocal citizen groups and its expanding Orthodox community. Soon after its passage, the town was hit with a lawsuit by Agudath Israel of America claiming that the law was aimed at discouraging more Orthodox Jews from settling in the town. Later that year, the council passed another ordinance that created a de facto ban on public eruvin, which was added to the litigation.
Over the last two months, two council members, Robert Nixon and Barry Calogero, who were believed to be strong backers of the ordinances, stepped down suddenly from their positions. Mr. Nixon had been named in the lawsuit as FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests showed the level of their personal involvement in directing what appeared to be targeted enforcement of zoning laws against the Orthodox community.
The case had been in arbitration for over a year, but negotiations broke down after other FOIL requests produced emails that indicated talks had been carried on in bad faith.
A public hearing will be held before a vote on the repeal proposal on May 26.
Assemblyman Thomson Calls on Administration to Lay Out Reopening Plans
Assemblyman Edward Thomson (R-Ocean/Monmouth) called on the Murphy administration to lay out details and timetables of the state’s planned reopening, calling it a necessary step for businesses to get back on their feet.
“Businesses, especially seasonal businesses, can’t just flip a switch when the governor decides they can open,” he said. “It takes weeks, if not months, of planning — to open a business in a good environment. They need specifics so they can hire staff, order inventory, and take all of the necessary steps to try to recover after being shut down for months.”
Governor Phil Murphy has already begun a phased reopening with moves like allowing retailers to sell through curbside pickup. He has said that phases will proceed over the coming weeks, but released few details as to how and when other moves will be made.
Assemblyman Thomson stressed that after months of the statewide shutdown and with opening regulations calling for social distancing procedures, many businesses will need time to prepare to restart.
“Many businesses are not going to survive this shutdown and many more will not make it through the recovery if they don’t start getting answers soon,” he said. “They need specifics on how and when the governor is going to start reopening our state, not vague plans and task forces.”
Ocean County Scales Back COVID Testing Site Hours
As the numbers of COVID cases continue to drop in the area, Ocean County’s official testing site has announced scaled back hours of operation.
“We have noticed the number of appointments being made for the site have been decreasing, so we need to adjust the site schedule,” said Ocean County Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye. “The college drive-thru testing site has gone very smoothly and we review the operations there weekly.”
Begun last week, testing will be done at the county’s testing center at Ocean County Community College in Toms River on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The site is only testing residents who are symptomatic and who come with a prescription. Testing is available at many other locations in the area as well.