JACKSON – The founder of the group Rise Up Ocean County came before the Township Council to inform them that he wanted to join their litigation efforts that have accused officials in the township of being biased against the Orthodox Jewish community.
Richard Ciullo, of Seaside Heights, said during the public comment period of a recent Council meeting that his group has “encouraged municipalities in Ocean County to strictly enforce code and strictly enforce zoning. We recognize the limitations of the code enforcement teams and zoning enforcement teams in each of the municipalities that we are currently working.”
Rise Up Ocean County’s Facebook page had previously been accused of fostering anti-Semitism among its users. Facebook removed the group’s page in February of 2020 stating it had used hate speech which goes against Facebook community standards. RUOC appealed Facebook’s decision which they said was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The page launched in October of 2018 and is currently operating again. Its stated purpose is to “restrict development and preserve our quality of life.”
One of the most recent issues revolves around Jackson bringing a property owner to court. The township said that the house is being used as a place of worship, and no one lives there. That is a violation of the zoning.
“You are plaintiffs in a lawsuit and I’ve had the opportunity to read the response to that lawsuit. In the course of the response there were certain points that were made by the defendant’s attorneys that make me very uncomfortable and I wanted to put it on record tonight. There were inferences made by the defendant’s representations that somehow our group and other specific individuals were somehow driving the bus behind zoning and code enforcement. I think that inference is wholly improper and inaccurate,” Ciullo said.
He said that Rise Up Ocean County was a group of “concerned residents of a multitude of different towns in northern Ocean County who rely heavily on our townships’ zoning and code enforcement officers to enforce strictly the ordinances that are currently on the books. That means sometimes we need to provide information. For example, 71 East Connecticut Concourse (Jackson).”
That residence is part of the litigation. Neighbors have said the house is being used for religious worship services and is not a residence.
“We’ve had this discussion before,” Ciullo added. “Previously you said there would be a phone number that could be called after hours and maybe somebody would respond, maybe somebody wouldn’t. The truth of the matter is there is a group of us that would be happy to go out there document the activities we see and then submit that information to the town.”
Ciullo noted that he had sent an e-mail concerning activities on that property to the members of the council a few weeks ago and received one reply back. However, the idea that RUOC was directing the town’s enforcement is “the most ridiculous allegation I have ever heard.”
He noted that the contact between his group and the township was primarily through e-mail and there was a “paper chain that people can follow if they are so inclined. I spoke to an attorney this morning and our hope is that we might be able to participate in this and at least defend the actions of our group. I think it is appropriate that we do.”
Ciullo noted that was his group’s intention but was unsure whether the judge handling the litigation would allow for that to happen.
A counterclaim by the Burton Jacobovitch Law Group that is representing defendant, Moshe Dovid Perlstein with an address of 71 East Connecticut Concourse alleges violations to his civil rights caused by the plantiff, Jackson Township.
The counterclaim states the plantiff’s “intentional conduct in engaging in a continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation designed to disrupt the defendant’s Orthodox Jewish religious exercise in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
The suit notes that the house was purchased in September 2019 and from that time to October 2020, the property was leased to Rabbi Shmuel Perlstein. From October 2020 to the current time it has been leased to Yonason Schecter, who according to the counterclaim, has resided at the property as a tenant since October 2020. The defendant has given permission to the tenants at the property, including Schecter, to permit guests at the property for the purposes of religious prayer and activity.
The counterclaim maintains gatherings for religious assembly in private homes do not violate township code.
Enforcement actions by Jackson toward the defendant heard in Jackson Municipal Court include two complaints of violation of land use and development applications that were required. The counterclaim states the complaints were issued without the plaintiff conducting any inspection of the interior of the home on the property.
On June 14, Jackson filed action alleging that the defendant had conducted construction work at the property without permit approval. The township also alleges that the defendant has engaged in a change of use of the property in violation of township code for a changing it to a house of worship.
The court denied the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order stating they “had not met their burden, addressing first the issues with regard to law.”
The court did order that the defendant permit the plaintiff access to the property at a mutually agreed upon day and time to inspect the property. The parties agreed on July 7 for the inspection which involved seven representatives/inspectors to the property. Three complaints were issued to the defendant as a result. These involved need of landlord registration and two required applications.
The new complaints pending against the defendant in municipal court are scheduled to be heard on September 9.