Maurice Hill’s council peers said he knew all about the requested changes to the 10-acre house of worship zoning ordinance.
TOMS RIVER-Maurice “Mo” Hill, who is running for Mayor in Toms River has previously said he knew nothing about a proposed ordinance to reduce the 10-acre zoning requirement for houses of worship in Toms River. Laurie Huryk, Hill’s fellow councilwoman said that’s hogwash and Hill knew, just as much as she did about the Department of Justice’s demand to revisit the ordinance.
A Toms River Council Land Use Committee meeting held on August 20th, 2019 shows exactly who agreed to draft a resolution to be voted on by the Toms River Township Council in September. According to documents released by the township, Councilman Maurice Hill, Councilwoman Laurie Huryk, Planning Board Vice Chairman Bob Stone, Business Administrator Don Guardian, Dave Roberts, Wendy Birkhead, Ken Fitzsimmons Esq, and Anthony Merlino Esq were all present according to the minutes of that meeting.
The discussion was held in regards to the growing Orthodox Jewish population and a request by the Department of Justice to revisit the township’s existing 10-acre minimum ordinance restrictions on houses of worship, particularly synagogues within the community.
At that meeting, Anthony Merlino updated the committee on the status of the Guttman RLUIPA litigation.
“No response from the DOJ has been received on the Township’s submission, but we need to follow up on the ordinance amendments covered in the most recently adopted Master Plan reexamination report,” Merlino said.
According to the official meeting minutes, officially approved by the entire Land Use Committee, including Hill, Huryk and Councilman George Wittman.
“The committee agreed that the RLUIPA (DOJ) amendments should be addressed at the September meeting of the LUC,” the minutes read.
In the ordinance drafted by Merlino as a result of the approvals given at the August 20th meeting, the township proposed a reduction in the acreage required township wide for houses of worship from 10 acres to 7 acres. Additionally, section 348-9.5.1 called for “Small-site places of worship”. Those small sites would require just two acres.
The ordinance has been a sore subject for residents in the growing Orthodox Jewish community who feel the existing 10-acre zoning law prohibits the building of a formal synagogue in the community, forcing many residents to conduct their sabbath prayer services in homes throughout the community.
Hill’s relationship with the man pushing for the lower zoning for houses of worship, Scott Gartner has come under fire. During Hill’s primary election campaign, two of his opponents, Daniel Rodrick and Heather Barone both questioned Hill’s relationship with Gartner. Gartner, an Orthodox Jew had met many times with Hill before, during and after the primary election.
Hill has been under fire for that relationship but has since doubled down, saying Gartner is his neighbor, a good friend and supporter. Hill also confirmed that he accepted a $2,600 donation from Gartner.
It’s not that Hill is Christian and Gartner is an Orthodox Jew that has the community riled up, it’s that Hill is a sitting councilman and Gartner is a man who threatened to sue the town with a half-million war chest if the ordinance does not get changed.
It has been bad news for those who oppose Hill’s master plans for Toms River. This week he lashed out at Huryk at a town council meeting, criticizing the councilwoman and even going as far as blaming her alone for the ordinance.
During the primary election where Hill was pitted against Councilman Daniel Rodrick and Heather Barone, both of Hill’s opponents Hill’s relationship with Gartner and Gartner’s financial campaign donation.
Rodrick published and mailed a postcard claiming the township, through Hill will eventually change the 10-acre zoning because of Hill’s relationship with Gartner. For that, Hill led a charge against Rodrick to be censured. Rodrick said his censure was nothing more than a political attack by Hill.
Barone was forced to resign from several volunteer positions which she had dutifully served on within the community, both publicly humiliated in retaliation for exposing Hill’s relationship with Gartner.
Shore News Network also exposed the relationship, for which Hill organized a paid negative media campaign through Karen Wall, a reporter for the Toms River Patch. Hill paid Wall and Patch for advertising in exchange for a paid hit piece against Shore News Network.
The tone has been set by Hill. Don’t mess with his relationship with Gartner…or else.
Hill has since vigorously defended his relationship, which was originally kept a secret from voters.
“Scott Gartner is my neighbor and a friend of mine,” Hill said. “I have met with Scott several times…I took a $2,600 donation from Scott…I would not refuse money from anybody.”
Photo: Stock Photo, Big Stock Images. Orthodox Jewish Men praying and celebrating.