JACKSON – Attending a meeting of Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood, (CUPON) is the apparent cause for two members of the township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and one member of the Planning Board’s abrupt resignation.
CUPON is a grass-roots organization formed to reduce development. It formed in Rockland, NY. Accusations regarding a local meeting of CUPON began to circulate through reports posted in The Lakewood Scoop in recent weeks.
The media site based in Lakewood alleges that several Jackson residents who served or serve on township boards were present during an Aug. 15 CUPON meeting and took part in discussions to advise the group how to counter proposed development plans involving the Orthodox Jewish community.
According to The Lakewood Scoop, Township Zoning Board Chairman, Dr. Sheldon J. Hofstein, and member Joseph Sullivan along with Planning Board member Richard Egan each attended that meeting.
Each resigned later that month.
At the Sept. 10 Township Council meeting, Egan, Hofstein and Sullivan spoke and said they had been asked to leave by members of the council.
The Lakewood Scoop posted photos and sound clips on their website. The sound clips were secretly recorded during the meeting. Recordings credited to Hofstein, Sullivan and Egan note remarks that they had not signed into the meeting. “We didn’t sign in. We’re neutral – like invisible,” Egan is credited as saying during the meeting, speaking with an unidentified Jackson resident who works as a Lakewood school teacher.
Hofstein is heard suggesting that she “get an application to serve on the board” or environmental commission. “The last opening on the zoning board took four months to fill because no one would put themselves out there.”
In his Aug. 26 letter of resignation to Council President Robert Nixon, Hofstein did state why he was resigning. He had served on the board for 11 years and his term would have ended in January 2020.
Sullivan and Egan both resigned on Aug. 23. Sullivan was an alternate member who recently became a full member and his term would have expired in January 2023.
Sullivan also resigned from the township’s Rent Leveling Board.
Egan’s resignation letter to Mayor Michael Reina from the Planning Board also included his resignation from the Jackson Environmental Commission. No reasons were offered for their resignations.
Zoning Board Attorney Sean Gertner has been reported by The Asbury Park Press as stating that for members of the board to attend a meeting where anti-development strategies are being discussed, potentially taints the outcome of any individual application and potentially adds to the possibility of future litigation. The attorney also said that Hofstein and Sullivan’s judgement could have come into question during future application hearings had they remained on the board.
There is also a recording embedded in one article of The Lakewood Scoop that identifies Jackson School Board member Gus Acevedo as having also attended the meeting.
According to that report he spoke to residents saying, “the more obstructive you are to them, the more delays they have, the more expenditures they have and the less easy it becomes for them.” He also advised any residents who spoke at public meetings to make sure that what they say, which would be documented, was factual and ethical.
Comments concerning that report alleged that Acevedo was questioned about the recording and nature of the meeting, by the Board of Education’s attorney. The Jackson Times reached out to the school district and to Acevedo to verify that information but did not receive an answer by press time.
Marc H. Zitomer of the firm Schenck, Price, Smith and King LLP, Florham Park which represents the school district stated on Sept. 4 that “Mr. Acevedo attended the meeting in question in his capacity as a private citizen of Jackson and not as a representative of the Board of Education. Therefore, we do not see this as Board of Education matter.”
Zitomer said he had responded to a comment to the Lakewood media outlet’s article saying, “I simply informed a “Mr. Smith” that Mr. Acevedo denied making any disparaging remarks about any religious group. I did not state that I questioned him and I am not sure where they got this information from.”
Acevedo was contacted via his board e-mail address for comment but did not respond.
The Zoning Board approves/denies applications for land use applications that do not conform to the township’s master plan. Zoning Board members are approved by the Jackson Council which is expected to fill the two vacancies soon.
The Planning Board approves/denies development projects that conform to the township’s master plan. Members are appointed by Reina who was also contacted for comment concerning the resignations but did not respond.
The township is currently involved in multiple cases of litigation regarding development issues involving the Orthodox Jewish community. One is from Agudath Israel, loosely affiliated with World Agudath Israel which aims to meet the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community across North America. The group sued the township in 2017 over the 2014 denial of an Orthodox Jewish girls’ high school.
According to Hamodia, the Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry, attorneys representing Agudath Israel this week requested a federal judge suspend the township’s ordinances banning the building of new schools and dormitories while litigation claiming they are discriminatory remains pending. Agudath Israel and a private developer, both of whom are plaintiffs, had been engaged in arbitration for about a year. Those talks broke down.