JACKSON TOWNSHIP, NJ – A Jackson Township resident who has rallied against the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community’s surge in Jackson spoke before the township council meeting on Tuesday to raise her concerns about an illegal house of worship operating out of an East Connecticut Concourse home. Cusanelli said that last week, she sat outside the home videoing Jewish men entering and leaving the home. Upon stepping up to the microphone, Cusanelli noted that she lived on the west side of Jackson, a nearly 20-mile drive to the home in question.
“In the course of an hour, I saw 73 men walk in and out of the building,” Cusanelli said. “This building is clearly being used for something other than a home. It is my understanding that all of the construction were done without permits. It’s been done entirely gutted. There are no bedrooms in the home. I can see this from outside the house.”
Cusanelli said she hopes the township prosecutes the owner of the home to the fullest extent of the law for turning the home into what she feels is now a house of worship where Orthodox Jewish men pray each Friday night.
“People are scared, people don’t want to be leaving their children outside anymore,” she said. “It’s not acceptable for a home to be used as a house of worship for four years and nothing has been done about it.”
Cusanelli said on Thursday, the owner secured a commercial mortgage on the property and said no zoning can be changed.
She accused the homeowner of defrauding the mortgage company.
“Does it make a difference that it’s commercial?” she asked.
Jackson Township attorney, play to play kingmaker Gregory P. McGuckin told Cusanelli it does not. McGuckin’s firm also represents the Lakewood Zoning Board.
“As far as the township is concerned it doesn’t have any bearing on the enforcement action we can take,” McGuckin said. “Intent is not the issue, it’s whether they are or they are not violating the township ordinance. It doesn’t matter what a mortgage says.”
Cusanelli asked McGuckin, who made himself infamous in his role as a New Jersey State Assemblyman when he introduced a bill that sought to fine New Jersey residents $15,000 for violating Governor Phil Murphy’s executive orders if there’s anything the township can do.
“We’re not a party to their mortgage, the only thing we can do is enforce our ordinances if we can establish that it’s not a residential structure,” McGuckin, who holds 21 public contract appointments worth an estimated $4,000,000 annually. “I understand that’s an ongoing issue that’s being addressed.”
Cusanelli said she has been addressing the issues for several years sending the township council emails and she has been being ignored completely by township officials about complaints about Orthodox Jewish homeowners allegedly violating township ordinances.
Jackson Township Business Administrator Terrance Wall said the township is taking action against several homes accused of being used as illegal houses of worship and the one in question is already being taken to court by the township. Wall recommended Cusanelli notify the police department if she believes occupancy laws are being violated.
McGuckin explained to Cusanelli how the building occupancy law works, asking Cusanelli to stop interrupting him as he was speaking. Wall said anyone in the town should feel very comfortable letting the town and police department know about it.
“Do you understand why certain people wouldn’t feel comfortable?” Cusanelli asked. Wall said he did not.
Cusanelli said McGuckin, the town attorney didn’t even know what the regulations were.
“I’m a victim of being comfortable,” Cusanelli said, adding that she has been harassed and people have come to her house during her crusade against illegal synagogues in town. “Nothing has been done. People are seeing their entire neighborhoods decimated, 50 to 60 cars in front of a house when somebody just moved in the neighborhood two weeks prior.”
She accused the police department of not wanting to be involved in it.