The three-year legal battle over the use of a house in a quiet residential neighborhood by a religious group appears to be largely over. Contention between the borough and Yeshiva of Ocean Inc. over how a two-story house on Whalepond Road owned by the nonprofit religious organization was being used came to the borough’s attention in 2003 after neighbors complained about a flurry of construction activity inside the house.Visits by construction, zoning and housing officials followed.
Borough officials found the home’s kitchen was gutted and a dining area was installed in the basement, in violation of zoning laws. Fines, totaling $500, were levied against the owners for building without permits.
Neighbors complained that the house was being used as a religious school, with up to 20 people a day attending religious services held there.
The borough agreed and filed a suit, saying the daily religious activity inside the house, which lies in a residential zone, violated their zoning ordinance.
The suit was decided in Superior Court in 2005. The borough prevailed, said Gene Anthony, borough attorney, and Yeshiva of Ocean was ordered to stop holding religious activities inside the house.
“All the students have since moved out, and I believe the building is now vacant,” Anthony said. “Immediately after (the court hearing), the house, along with several in the neighborhood (also owned by Yeshiva of Ocean), were put up for sale.”
Gary Fox, an Ocean Township-based attorney representing Yeshiva, said he was not certain that the house was vacant, but said last week that the religious activity in the house had stopped, in compliance with the court order.
But just days before the Superior Court ruling, Yeshiva of Ocean won a partial victory from the county Construction Board of Appeals that still has to be decided.
Yeshiva of Ocean appealed the borough’s fines it levied in 2003 to the county board.
The board dealt Yeshiva a blow when it upheld the borough’s fines, but it also gave the organization a boost when it determined the house was being used primarily as a single-family residence, not a religious school as the borough maintained. It ordered Yeshiva to reinforce the areas of the house where large numbers of people gathered.
Anthony said the borough is appealing that ruling. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 15 before Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson, according to the judge’s office.
But, Anthony said, the contention between the two groups is largely over.
“In terms of preventing the use, the wrongful use of the building, I think it’s over,” Anthony said.