Lakewood mall plan opposed because it would allow non-Jews and ‘hanging out’
A woman outside a Planning Board meeting in January berating men over the yeshiva developer's shopping mall proposal.
LAKEWOOD — Hundreds of township residents are fighting a religious organization's proposed shopping center because they fear non-Jews will open up shop and encourage boys and girls to hang out.
The township's planning board is set to vote Tuesday night on the proposal by Beth Medrash Govoha to develop a 187,000-square-foot Lakewood Shopping Village. BMG is an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva, or school, that owns the Cedarbridge Development Corp.
The plan has been opposed by some neighbors and residents on grounds that it would cause traffic problems in an already heavily developed community.
But a copy of a petition obtained by New Jersey 101.5 shows that the plans are fiercely opposed for religious reasons, as well.
Parking and traffic concerns are not mentioned in the text of the petition, which was signed by at least 1,200 people who agreed that the project should be opposed because it is "the very essence of materialism."
The petition adds that "the presence and influence of non-Jews is terrifying."
This Ocean County township has been one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, in large part due to an influx of Orthodox Jews. Over the years, the religious community has had a sometimes-contentious relationship with other residents. Township officials at one point opposed the operation of a security patrol, complete with its own cruisers with flashing lights, that catered to the Orthodox community, which makes up the majority of the township committee and school board.
The school district also has been criticized by education advocates because it spends tens of millions of public dollars on tuition and transportation for students to attend private and religious schools. Meanwhile, the mostly black and Latino students attending public schools could lose about 120 teachers next year because of a $15 million budget shortfall.
Last year, officials in neighboring municipalities caused a stir by accusing Lakewood developers and religious leaders of promoting "blockbusting," the practice of scaring off homeowners with the specter of an invading ethnic minority — in this case, Orthodox Jews — in the hopes of driving down real estate prices in order to spur a buyer's market.
Religious friction is now behind the opposition to the shopping mall.
The petition, which was shared by Take Back Lakewood, a blog critical of development in the township, shames yeshiva leaders for the plan.
"The yeshiva agreed to sign there will not be stores open on Shabbos, but it refused to sign that there will not be stores owned by goyim," the petition reads, referring to the Jewish sabbath and using a Yiddish term for non-Jews. "It is clear that their only concern is rental income."
"If a non-Jewish owner is prepared to pay more will he be refused? Or will the excuse be given that it is against Civil Rights laws to prohibit a rental due to race, creed or religion."
One of the biggest concerns the petition has is with the potential for boys and girls to have a place — "a pizza store, a bagel store etc." — where they will mingle.
"Will there not be any store of any nature that entices boys and girls to hang out there, hence creating an enormous pitfall under the auspices of BMG," the petition asks.
The proposal has come before the planning board before, the Asbury Park Press reported.
A neighboring age-restricted community initially opposed the project until the developers agreed to keep traffic off the street used by residents of Pine River Village homeowners association.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.