By: Yitzchok Schwartz
The Yom Tov of Sukkos is fast approaching, and many frum Jews living in Jackson are somewhat confused about the process of building a Sukkah. Is there a size limit? Does it have to be in the backyard, or can it be in the front? Actually, for that matter – is it legal altogether?
LNN has contacted the Jackson Township Building and Zoning Departments to try and elucidate this important issue for the community. Based on their conversation, the process would seem to be pretty uncomplicated and straightforward. Here is what the official Township code dictates for individuals intending to build a Sukkah, or any other structure – including sheds, doghouses and the like:
Any permanent or temporary structure being erected on one’s property, regardless of its intended duration, requires a zoning permit. This applies to structures being built in front yards, backyards, or even on decks, and it includes structures of any shape or size. A zoning permit can be obtained physically at the Jackson Township Zoning Department, or online on the Township’s website.
However, if one is planning on building a structure that will exceed 200 square feet in size, then they must go about the construction process with the Jackson Township Building Department, and follow all of the required steps prior to beginning construction.
Now, here comes the tricky part: It takes ten business days for the application to be processed. So that would mean that any frum family interested in erecting a Sukkah in Jackson this year would technically have to apply for a permit before the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Uh, yeah. We’d better get a move on.
Well, those are the official laws regarding building a Sukkah. But there is another side to this story.
As previously reported on LNN, former attorney general Gurbir Grewal recently sued Jackson Township for discriminating against Orthodox Jews. In his lawsuit, he designated a full five pages for describing the Township’s alleged discriminatory practices specifically with regard to the erection of Sukkos. According to Grewal, Sukkos were never considered to be included in the list of structures that legally required the issuance of a permit, up until a sudden change in Township policy sometime in 2016—a move which he considered to be ‘discrimination on the basis of creed’. In his words:
“At least into 2016 or 2017, the Zoning Board did not interpret the “front yard” provision to prohibit the construction of Sukkahs in front yards. Instead, the Board interpreted this Code provision broadly to permit certain temporary or accessory structures in front yards, including Sukkahs.”
Summing up his allegation with regard to Sukkos, Grewal wrote: “The definition of ‘front yard’ in the Township Code has not been amended since 2011 to reflect the Township’s de facto categorical ban on sukkahs… Upon information and belief, the Township has not engaged in similar enforcement against any other temporary accessory structures.” Basically, the former attorney general was confronting the Township for tweaking the Code’s wording in order to prohibit the building of Sukkos, and also for singling out Sukkos (by issuing violations and so on) while overlooking many other similar sized structures.
Over the past few years, many frum homeowners have received violation notices—and sometimes fines—for building regular Sukkos. LNN has learned from multiple Jackson residents that they have received these notices regardless of the location of the actual Sukkah, whether it was in the front yard, backyard, or even on the deck. But in light of these serious accusations made by New Jersey’s top law officer, it would seem to be somewhat unethical for the Township to issue violation notices and/or fines to homeowners who choose to build Sukkos without obtaining a zoning permit. This is an ongoing case that has yet to be resolved, and one would imagine that enforcing these laws at this point would smack of insensitivity, if not outright disregard to the voice and feelings of the Jewish community in Jackson.
So, to make things clear: The Jackson Township Zoning Department is officially expecting a large number of applications to be filed in the coming days, but whether or not they will be issuing violation notices and/or fines to those who fail to obtain a permit is anyone’s guess at this point. We’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Wishing you a wonderful and uncomplicated Yom Tov.