Toms River Democrats said Councilman Mo Hill, the GOP candidate for mayor, flip-flopped on a land-use ordinance for houses of worship to save political face ahead of the year’s election.
“Toms River residents deserve to be told the truth. Councilman Hill planned to keep his zoning proposal a secret until after the November election,” said Jonathan Petro, the Democratic candidate for mayor. “That’s just not right.”
Earlier this month, Hill announced his opposition to a land-use proposal that would reduce the minimum zoning requirements for places of worship from 10 acres to 7 acres, or 2 acres in the northern part of the town, near the Lakewood border.
“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, a four-term councilman, said earlier this month. “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 that Petro either doesn’t understand the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or is trying to drive a wedge into the community regarding this sensitive issue for his own selfish political purposes.
“The proposed change of 10 acre zoning to 7 acres for houses of worship became a matter of public record when the Toms River Planning Board made that recommendation in the Master Plan Reexamination Report last April,” said Hill. “However, the Township has not heard back from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding that proposed change and whether or not that would satisfy their opinion of the Township’s obligation under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.”
Hill said that the council “can’t be negotiating against ourselves.”
“I would never vote to change the 10 acre zoning to 7 acres unless the Justice Department said that was satisfactory. I am not going to change the zoning to 7 acres and then have the DOJ come back and say you need to make it even lower,” Hill said. I think we got it right with 10 acres, but if making it 7 acres would prevent a lengthy and expensive court battle, the entire Council would consider it, but not without legally binding assurances from the Attorney General. Two acres goes too far. If the DOJ insists upon that, let’s go to Court and let a Judge decide after we make our arguments.”
The four-term councilman says he was shocked to see a draft ordinance on the Land Use agenda last week for both 7 and 2 acre zoning without any discussion or feedback from the Department of Justice.”
This story was updated at 4:49 PM with comment from Hill.