Homes to Houses of Worship: 10 Acre Requirement Cut to 2 Acres in Toms River

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July 2019: Mayor Mo Hill celebrates his election win at campaign headquarters with members of the Toms River Jewish Community Council and Agudath Israel of America.
July 2019: Mayor Mo Hill celebrates his election win at campaign headquarters with members of the Toms River Jewish Community Council and Agudath Israel of America. Photo courtesy of Mo Hill for Toms River Mayor campaign.

TOMS RIVER – Houses of Worship will now be permitted on just 2-acres.  This comes after the Council voted  6-to-1 to ditch the 10-acre requirement.  Under the new rules, smaller houses of worship will now be permitted in all residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Rodrick cast the lone no vote; expressing concerns that this will increase traffic and on street parking in residential zones – turning quiet blocks into busy streets.  “That’s not what people signed up for when they bought their homes” Rodrick said.

It’s long been rumored that Mayor Hill had a plan to reduce the acreage requirement for houses of worship, but Hill denied these plans during the 2019 mayoral race.   During the race, Hill told the Asbury Park Press that he would fight to protect the 10-acre rule.

Rodrick chastised Hill and members of council for lying to residents.  After the vote, Hill’s running mate Councilman Matt Lotano defended the position taken by the Council and Mayor Hill. “Sometimes you change your mind.” Lotano told members of the public.

 

A controversial political campaign mailer that sought to expose Mo Hill's connection to Scott Gartner. Gartner threatened to sue Toms River with a war chest of $250,000. Instead, he ended up donating thousands of dollars to Mo Hill's political campaign.
A controversial political campaign mailer that sought to expose Mo Hill’s connection to Scott Gartner. Gartner threatened to sue Toms River with a war chest of $250,000. Instead, he ended up donating thousands of dollars to Mo Hill’s political campaign.

Councilman Rodrick first made Mo Hill’s plan to reduce the acreage requirement public during the 2019 Republican Primary.  A mailer circulated by Rodrick’s campaign stated that Mo Hill was working to reduce the 10-acre rule, and that Hill was supported by Scott Gartner – a resident who publically threatened to sue the town if they didn’t reduce the 10- acre requirement for houses of worship.

Hill denied receiving support from Gartner, and told reporters that Gartner was just his neighbor.  However, New Jersey Campaign Finance reports now reveal that Mr. Gartner contributed the maximum amount allowable by law to Hill’s Mayoral campaign.

The acreage reduction for houses of worship comes after two years of behind-the-scenes negotiations with members of the Toms River Jewish Community Council, Mayor Hill, Township Attorneys, and the Department of Justice.

Although the Department of Justice had closed its’ investigation into Toms River in March of 2018 – Mo Hill and Terrance Turnbach actively sought out further Department of Justice involvement – requesting a meeting and full review of the township’s religious land use rules on April 14th of 2018.

Now township officials believe reducing the acreage requirement for houses of worship is necessary to avoid, “costly litigation and large settlements.”

However, a lawsuit had not been filed against the township, and settlements are covered by the township’s liability insurance.  Township Attorney Merlino refused to answer Councilman Rodrick’s questions about the acreage reduction at multiple points in the meeting, and each time Rodrick tried, he was cut off by Council President Geoghegan.

At one point, Council President Geoghegan, told Rodrick to stop talking and refused to let the councilman voice his opposition.  At the end of the meeting, Rodrick again attempted to ask the township attorney a question during the public comment portion of the meeting, this time as a member of the public.  He was refused the ability to speak out against the council’s decision to reduce the zoning once again.

“I’m a member of the public,” Rodrick told the council.

“Seeing none come forward, I move to close the public portion of the meeting,” Councilwoman Laurie Huryk said.

Councilwoman Huryk abruptly motioned to close the meeting, cutting off Councilman Rodrick. The motion was swiftly seconded by Councilman Lotano, officially closing the meeting.

The 5: Here’s what’s going on in and around Toms River, NJ

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