TOMS RIVER, NJ – After two years of behind-the-scenes negotiations with members of the Orthodox Jewish community, township lawyers, and the Department of Justice, the Toms River Township Council and Mayor Maurice Hill have approved two-acre zoning for houses of worship in residential areas of the community.
Under the new proposal, houses of worship of two acres will be approved in most residential areas except for small streets such as cul-de-sacs. Larger houses of worship will be permitted under the plan on major roads and commercial areas.
The consent order to roll back the zoning on religious houses of worship was voted 6-1 by the council with Councilman Dan Rodrick being the only no vote.
Rodrick said he voted no because there is no formal lawsuit filed against the township and said it was disingenuous to present the order as a settlement of a lawsuit as opposed to the pre-settlement of a threatened lawsuit.
A search for federal court cases revealed no active lawsuits by the Department of Justice against the township. Township attorney Kevin Merlino said instead, the term United States vs. Township of Toms River was sent in a caption on the order by the DOJ.
Rodrick said the only open case against the town was closed with the Toms River Chabad lawsuit.
“Three months later, Mayor Hill, Terrance Turnbach, and Anthony Merlino set up a meeting and took it upon themselves and asked the DOJ to further look into the lawsuit,” he said.
Rodrick said in May of 2019, he made it public that Hill had a plan to reduce the acreage for houses of worship in response to the political support he was receiving. Said he would fight to protect the 10-acre rule.
“Change came on the mayor’s land-use agenda,” Rodrick said of the two-acre zoning. “Hill said he was blindsided, Councilwoman Huryk said hill was a liar and was working to make these changes. Hill began lobbying the new council to support his plan. I didn’t want to go along with him then I will not go along with him tonight. There is no United States vs Toms River Township lawsuit. Huryk was right. Mo Hill Lied.”
Councilman Kevin Geoghegan told Rodrick to be quiet and told the councilman he may no longer speak after his comments.
Huryk said she never called Hill a liar and that the Asbury Park Press story that quoted her in September of 2018 was a lie, and fake news. “Headlines are not quotes. “He works day and night to do nothing but the best for Toms River.”
“There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion,” said Councilman Josh Kopp.
“It’s a prudent decision by the township,” Mayor Hill said. “I want to thank the council for moving forward on that.”
“Mayor Maurice Hill is a great man,” said Democrat Councilman Terrance Turnbach. “He goes to work every day for this town and cares about everyone in this town. You can learn a lot of traits about family and community from Mayor Hill.”
“I wish for once Dan Rodrick would do what’s right for the community,” Turnbach said. “As a Democrat, I’m proud of Mayor Mo Hill. We should all be proud of him. This is the right thing to do. We will take the unity out of the community and why would we do that?”
Merlino said if the town did not approve the measure, it would face lawsuits and tax increases.
Councilman Lotano said, “We are protecting the general welfare of all of our citizens”
Merlino said there are no restrictions in any residential areas for private citizens to hold prayer groups in their homes.
At the end of the meeting, Rodrick wanted to speak as a member of the public, but was denied by Geoghegan who shut the meeting down as he was speaking.