Brick Sues Illegal Religious School

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

By Chris Lundy and Judy Smestad-Nunn

  BRICK – On Friday, August 20, the township filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to force an unauthorized school that has been running at the site of the former Temple Beth Or to immediately cease and desist operations.

  Mayor John G. Ducey said the lawsuit was necessary since all property owners are required to obey township zoning regulations and “the township will enforce the law.”

  The township has begun fining the operator of the boy’s school, identified in the lawsuit as Congregation Kehilos Yisroel, Inc. (CKY), who opened up in the former temple because they did not get the proper clearances and inspections.

  “The purpose of this action is to enforce Brick’s zoning and land use ordinances and to obtain relief requiring the non-approved private boys’ school to cease operating until such time as all required land use approvals and uniform construction code permits…are secured,” the town says in the lawsuit.

   Temple Beth Or, at 200 Van Zile Road, closed earlier this year and was sold. With a declining congregation, the group was having trouble maintaining the large 4.11-acre site.

  Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin said that when a property changes in use, such as going from a temple to a school, they have to go through the township’s Planning Board.

  An earlier article by The Brick Times stated that CKY had not made an application, based on a July 27 email to this paper from the township.

  The township has been told by the property’s owner that the building is being rented to someone who is using it as a boy’s school, Bergin said.

  On March 11, CKY attorney Samuel Pum applied for a zoning permit to rehabilitate the existing house of worship, but the application did not mention a school use, the lawsuit reads. The zoning permit further states that any change in use would require site plan approval.

  In a site plan prepared in 1975, and an engineering review of the property completed in 1976, there is no depiction of a school and identifies the structure there as a synagogue and did not identify any future use of the building other than a synagogue, the lawsuit says.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

  Bergin said there have been violation notices, which includes a fine up to $2,000 a day that they are not in full compliance. This is not just because it’s being used as a school; there are a number of other items that the township has to review to make sure that the building is being used safely for the inhabitants and those around them. For example, if an interior wall was taken down, or if electrical outlets were changed, they would need to be inspected in order for it to be safe.

  A letter had circulated on social media that an application had been filed with the town’s Board of Adjustment for a “Change of Use.” The letter urged people to come out to land use meetings to protest the school, but the school was not on any meeting’s agenda.

  Township Zoning Officer Christopher Romano became aware around early June that there had been a change in use and a private high school was operating on the property.

  What followed was a series of phone calls and email exchanges between township attorney Ronald D. Cucchiaro, attorney for the property owner Adam Pfeffer, attorney Pum, and Romano about the requirement for a site plan approval, and that a violation would be issued if a proper site plan application was not filed.

  “Not only has CKY not applied for or obtained the required land use and uniform construction code permits and approvals, the intensity of the school use has increased and upwards of 100 students began regular attendance in early August 2021,” the lawsuit says.

  Three construction violations were issued on August 19 for interior alterations constructed without a permit and for the change of use without a permit.

  Temple Beth Or Board President Sandi Silber said she had been told by the new owners that the site would continue to be used as a synagogue.

  There were only two bids for the Temple Beth Or property, a 4.6-acre site with a 17,000 square-foot synagogue, 3,000 square-foot original temple and three-bedroom residence for the rabbi.

  The property sold for $3.5 million, and was purchased by a group from Lakewood.

Calls to school representatives were not returned by press time.