Roosevelt yeshiva fined for operating illegal dorm

Court also upholds ruling that school has to seek variance to continue operating in synagogue

BY JANE MEGGITT Correspondent

Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah was found in violation of a court order that 28 Homestead Lane in Roosevelt could be used only as single-family residence.

Judge Lawrence Lawson, of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, sitting in Freehold, made the ruling Jan. 7. Lawson initially decided on Aug. 19, 2010, that the yeshiva had violated zoning ordinances and two certificates of occupancy by using 28 Homestead Lane as a dormitory, which is not a permitted use in the residential zone.

At the Feb. 14 Borough Council meeting, Borough Attorney Richard Shaklee reported that Lawson personally inspected 28 Homestead Lane on Jan. 6. Borough ordinance only allows for five unrelated people to live in a single-family home in a residential zone.

According to the transcript of the hearing dated Jan. 7, Lawson found four individuals under the age of 18 in the house at the time of the inspection. He also noted seeing three individuals leaving in a minivan and somebody in the garage trying to put the garage door down.

“In my order in November I stated that there should be, if there are five individuals living in that home, they should be over the age of 18,” Lawson said at the hearing. “Not one was over the age of 18.”

During his inspection, Lawson saw various items that did not convince that fewer than five people were living at 28 Homestead Lane, according to the hearing transcript. He noted seeing mattresses and bed frames in the garage, as well as two pay phones, phone numbers written on the walls, institutional quantities of food, and a number of refrigerators and freezers. He also noted that the home did not have the kind of furniture that would be found in a single-family residence, according to the hearing transcript.

“It’s no way that 28 Homestead could be used as a home,” Lawson said during the hearing. “I was really amazed that either some official from Roosevelt hadn’t closed that and condemned it. There were holes in the wall, wires exposed. … The lights hanging from the ceiling, the exposed lights outside. I mean, that is an accident waiting to happen.”

Lawson said that the court cannot evict the yeshiva from the property, so it would rely on high fines and threat of imprisonment to force the yeshiva into voluntary compliance. The court fined the yeshiva $200 a day since the order’s original return date of Nov. 12, 2010, for a total of $11,200. Shaklee said that Lawson also awarded counsel fees of $1,950 to Roosevelt’s Planning Board.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld another of Lawson’s rulings concerning the yeshiva on Feb. 9. The ruling confirmed that the yeshiva would need to seek a variance from Roosevelt’s Planning and Zoning Board to continue operating at 20 Homestead Lane, the site of the synagogue Congregation Anshei Roosevelt. The yeshiva started operating in the synagogue in 2005.

The appellate court determined that the board was not “arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable” in its determination that the yeshiva had to seek a variance. The court determined that the record did not support the yeshiva’s contention that it functioned as any other day school, as six junior rabbis lived on-site.

“They are apprenticed to the yeshiva,” according to the decision. “No evidence was presented that the yeshiva was a stateaccredited school.”

Bert Ellentuck lives next door to the synagogue and serves as president of the Roosevelt Preservation Society, which was involved in the yeshiva litigation. When asked about his reaction, Ellentuck said, “I’m glad it’s over.”

Homestead Lane resident Melissa Branco said that she is grateful the governing body stayed the course with the litigation.