Residents Question Why Codes Not Being Enforced

The front door of 41 Mill Pond in the Whispering Hills section in Jackson features several stop work orders issued by township code enforcement officials. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – Members of the governing body once again received some strong criticism from members of the public regarding the ongoing issue of township code enforcement cases.

  The township is facing several lawsuits accusing officials of anti-Semitic discrimination including one from the federal government and one from the state. Members of the Orthodox Jewish community have accused the governing body of passing ordinances that have limited their ability to build a legal synagogue. Residents now suspect that members of that community are using residential homes as “prayer houses” to circumvent this.

  Those houses are the subject of code enforcement action which are pending a court hearing. Mayor Michael Reina said those cases have been delayed, in part, by the court backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Issues At Whispering Hills

  Resident Anthony Baier brought up discussion about 41 Mill Pond in the Whispering Hills section of the township. “I was the third house in there, third actual move-in. I see what is happening in my neighborhood this year and I sold my house.” He noted that his neighborhood was as “diversified as AT&T” where he worked for 40 years.

  He added, “the culture of the persons who are moving in now turn our homes into shabbats. My backyard leads right to that shabbats. On Friday night vans come in and the people come in to the back (of the property).”

  Baier added, “a company bought all eight houses at once and these big beautiful houses are occupied by renters of one or two persons of a younger generation. There is a boy’s school back there and a girl’s school back there and when the garages are opened there are 40 mattresses stacked to the ceilings.”

  “It is a fire hazard, a code violation,” he added. “You don’t see them outside until Sunday night. They hoot and holler on Friday evening. Next week there is a different set of cars.”

  “Running a church in a public residence is a code violation. No question. That is exactly what is happening. I called the police as there are 10 cars always parked the wrong way.” Baier said when township police spoke to him, they said, “there is nothing I can do sir, they are just visiting.”

  Baier said he contacted the construction department to report a code violation. “People with New Jersey (construction licenses) are working on a property that they know have stop work orders, has red stickers right on it and they are there working.”

  “I took a video of it. I walked up one day to the worker and I said what are you doing? This is a stop work order and he threatened me. He said I don’t care about your (town’s) ordinance. I have a family to take care of. Who are you with your big video camera?”

  “I said all I was doing was giving you a head’s up that I was going to tell the town that you are doing unauthorized work. All we ask is for respect from everyone in the community and for the laws to be enforced. We have reasons to vote not only because our taxes are high but that our government in Jackson Township is not doing their job today,” Baier said in conclusion.

Residents expressed concerns about rumors that this home on 41 Mill Pond Road in the neighborhood of Whispering Hills is being converted into a school with trees recently being cleared in front and behind the property. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Council Or Mayor?

  Council President Andrew Kern explained why he and other council members can’t tell staff to do certain things. “Under our form of government, our council members have no authority to do so.”

  Fifteen years ago, the residents of Jackson Township voted to change their form of government. It used to be that the mayor was one of the committee members, chosen by the committee. Now, the mayor is directly elected by the people. “Under the current form of government, the mayor is the only person authorized to direct the day-to-day operations of the township and is the only one who can direct township employees to perform any particular function,” Kern said.

  The council president added, “all our department heads except our clerk report to the mayor through the Township Administrator (Terence Wall) and not to this council. We cannot tell the mayor how to run the town. We cannot infringe on the authority granted him by law.”

  Kern noted that Berkeley, Brick and Toms River townships have the same form of government as Jackson. He said public concerns brought to council would continue to be forwarded to the mayor’s office.

  Resident Eleanor Hannum who heads the group Citizens United to Protect our Neighborhoods (CUPON) was particularly critical towards Mayor Reina. She said responses made during the prior Council meeting to Whispering Hills residents, “were quite disrespectful. The mayor, Mike Reina told the residents of Whispering Hills to set up a meeting and we’ll talk. We’ll sit and discuss all of your ills that are going on in your neighborhood. It was all BS.

  “We were all given a pile of crap from this lame duck mayor who in conjunction with the zoning officer said, ‘it is all good there is nothing wrong. They can do all this. It all applies to what is allowed in the zone on the property.’ Quite a smooth double talker,” Hannum added.

  She said, “history repeats itself and now you have countless residents complaining about illegal use of residential homes and residential property. Residents who finally gave up and sold their homes – many of which were my friends – because they know this government is not here to protect them. They have a township attorney who works for the client and the client is not us. The client is you and the mayor.”

Response To Allegations

  Seaside Heights resident Richard Ciullo said he identified 11 residential properties in Jackson that were operating as synagogues. He oversees the controversial Facebook page Rise Up Ocean County, which at one time was taken down due to accusations of anti-Semitism. He asked, “is this something you feel is actionable for code enforcement and zoning or would you offer an opinion it is a case-by-case basis?”

  Township Attorney Gregory McGuckin responded that whether a residence is being used for religious purposes is subject to a fact-based investigation and “any property people feel is being used in an improper manner, the process is that they should submit that information to code enforcement and they are going to do an investigation.”

  Wall, the administrator, said that the zoning and code enforcement officers have stepped up their hours and personnel with after hours and weekend coverage. “Folks are rightly and justifiably angry about people not following the law. People are angry because we have local ordinances for a reason. They are to be followed by everyone, regardless of your race, creed, color and it is supposed to be fair and equitable to everybody.”

  He said the mayor’s office and the council “work collaboratively together. If someone is violating the rules it is very simple, they go to court, period.”

  “There was clearly a need for additional coverage. One of the complaints we had was how do you manage a call when it comes in the middle of the night or on the weekend. The default was to reach out to the police department and the commentary was that it wasn’t as efficient and the protocols weren’t as consistent,” he said.

  “We are revising the protocols to which the communication officers handle inquiries so folks should feel comfortable any time, any day 24/7. If they see an area of concern that wish to have addressed, they can contact the police department,” Wall added.