Thursday, May 26, 2016

Justice Dept investigating Toms River zoning laws

APP  reports The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Toms River’s zoning laws affecting religious land uses, including the Board of Adjustment’s requirement that a rabbi obtain a use variance to continue operating his Church Road home as a house of worship.

“Our investigation will focus on the Township’s zoning laws affecting religious land uses,” Sameena Shina Majeed, acting chief of the Justice Department’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, wrote in an April 28 letter to Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher. “We are also reviewing, as part of our investigation, the Township’s requirement that Rabbi Moshe Gourarie obtain a use variance in order to engage in religious worship and educational activities at 2001 Church Road.”

In December, the township’s Board of Adjustment said that Gourarie must seek a use variance to continue operating the Chabad Jewish Center at his Church Road home. A 2009 revision to the township’s zoning ordinance banned churches in the residential zone that includes Gourarie’s property. Gourarie purchased the property in 2011.

In her letter to the mayor, Majeed said the Justice Department’s investigation will focus on whether Toms River is in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The religious land use act, adopted by Congress in July 2000 and signed into law later that year by President Bill Clinton, bans towns from enforcing land use regulations that impose a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, “absent a compelling justification” that the restriction furthers a government interest. “Our investigation is preliminary in nature; we have not made any determination as to whether there has been a violation of RLUIPA by the Township,” Majeed wrote. [APP]

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