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Hill to Oppose Measure That Would Drastically Loosen ‘Houses of Worship’ Zoning

Toms River municipal building. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River municipal building. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River councilman and mayoral candidate Maurice “Mo” Hill said Monday he would oppose a proposal to drastically reduce the acreage required for a house of worship to be built in Toms River.

Hill’s opinion in the matter came after documents from the council’s Land Use Subcommittee were leaked, showing that officials were considering loosening Toms River’s zoning for houses of worship, lowering their area requirements from 10 acres to 7 acres town-wide and to 2 acres in the northern part of town near the Lakewood border.

Hill’s Democratic opponent in the race for mayor, Jonathan Petro, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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The proposed zoning change could be crucial in this year’s council and mayoral election. Candidates from all parties are running on an anti-development platform for the North Dover section, however Hill, a Republican, has been criticized by Petro for accepting a donation from Scott Gartner, who has threatened to sue Toms River in order to start a new synagogue in town. The proliferation of a multitude of Orthodox Jewish houses of worship and private schools have been at least partly blamed for what is often seen as overdevelopment in Lakewood, which Toms River residents have cited as a top concern for years.

“My colleagues and I on the council approved the existing zoning regulations for houses of worship over the last 10 years and I think we got it right,” Hill said in a statement. “I don’t know what the lawyers are thinking, but I am opposed to these changes as a councilman and I will oppose them as mayor if I am elected.”

Hill said he is opposing the change because a state-imposed affordable housing quota is already expected to lead to high-density development in the northern portion of town.

“Zoning decisions, even for houses of worship, are not made with any particular religion in mind,” Hill said. “We have a devout community of many religions, I am proud of that. We welcome all to Toms River who appreciate our quality of life and follow our laws.”

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