TOMS RIVER, NJ – Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill and the Township Council are close to striking a deal to lower the 10-acre minimum zoning for houses of worship in the community. In a proposal drafted jointly by Hill and Toms River Democrat Councilwoman Laurie Huryk last summer as members of the township’s land use committee, the township sought to reduce zoning for houses of worship.
For the township at-large, zoning would be lowered to 7 acres, but in North Dover, that zoning minimum would be lowered to two-acres, according to a draft proposal created by the township’s land use committee. After that memo was leaked, Hill denied his involvement in its drafting. Huryk, in an Asbury Park Press article, claimed Mo Hill was lying about his responsibility in drafting that ordinance.
“Councilwoman Laurie Huryk said two of her council colleagues are not telling the truth about ongoing discussions of potential zoning…from 10 acres to seven acres townshipwide, and to only two acres in the North Dover section,” the Asbury Park Press reported. Huryk said she was appalled by Hill’s statements in the newspaper about the ordinance.
Hill told the public he had no idea who drafted the ordinance and that the matter was never discussed between himself and the land use committee. Huryk said Hill was flat out lying.
“[Hill] knows exactly how the zoning changes ended up on the Land Use Committee agenda; the township had committed to the Department of Justice that Toms River would be brought into compliance with federal law this year,” Huryk said in a prepared statement. “These corrective actions had been discussed many times, and needed to be enacted in a timely manner in order to save the taxpayers of Toms River untoward fines and penalties resulting from the current federal investigation.”
Two years later, there’s still no federal investigation, but after being turned down by the council in 2019, Hill sought guidance from the Department of Justice to review the ordinance. Now, with Hill’s budging, the Department of Justice is asking the township to once again review their land use law based on Hill’s outreach to the agency.
If overturned by the township council, the town code would allow for houses of worship on properties in residential zones with minimums as low as two acres, perhaps township wide.
The news is great news for the town’s growing Orthodox Jewish community now operating “underground” shuls, outside of township ordinance, but within the legal framework of the U.S. Constitution. The ordinance change would allow congregations to “legalize” their houses of worship and build new houses of worship suitable to accommodate the growing community.
Hill and the township council, including Democrats Terrance Turnbach, Laurie Huryk, Kevin Geoghegan, Matt Lotano, and Josh Kopp have all signaled in recent meetings that they are ready to go ahead with the zoning change, but Councilman Dan Rodrick has raised concerns overturning a law that was put in place over a decade ago.