The series of legal battles that began in the summer of 2017, when Mahwah residents reacted to a perceived influx of ultra-Orthodox Jews from neighboring Rockland County by proposing ordinances that would bar nonresidents from township parks, has concluded.
The final settlement came earlier this month, when the State of New Jersey and the Township of Mahwah agreed to settled the state’s lawsuit against Mahwah.
This settlement followed earlier agreements reached by Mahwah, as well as by the neighboring towns of Montvale and Upper Saddle River, and the Rockland-Bergen Eruv Association. In those cases, the towns agreed to allow an eruv to be put in place on utility poles and paid tens of thousands of dollars for the association’s legal fees.
New Jersey had sought to recover millions of dollars of state aid it had paid to the parks, claiming that attempts to close the parks to outsiders violated the terms under which the money was granted.
In the settlement, Mahwah agreed not to violate state anti-discrimination laws in the future. It further agreed to notify the state attorney general before introducing any new laws that would affect access to township parks, or affect posting on utility poles. The town already had settled the suit filed by the Rockland-Bergen Eruv Association when it sought to remove the eruv placed on utility poles in the town.
Now, Mahwah has agreed to modify the township code to make it clear that devices on utility poles other than signs are unregulated. It also agreed to allow eruv markers to be installed on utility poles in the township and to investigate any damage to them as a criminal offense.
To ensure that park ordinances are not used to discriminate against Orthodox Jews, Mahwah agreed to keep records of the enforcement of existing park ordinances, and to forward them to the state. These restrictions will be in place for four years.
Meanwhile, the township will make a suspended payment of $350,000 to the state for legal fees and penalties. The payment will be canceled after four years if no evidence of further discrimination is found, and then notifications and quarterly reports will no longer be required.
The township also agreed to a joint declaration with the state that “All laws related to use of Mahwah’s parks and recreational facilities, as well as laws related to solicitation activity within the Township, will be enforced in an even-handed and non-discriminatory manner. In addition, intimidation or harassment of any person engaging in lawful use of the Township’s parks and recreational facilities, is prohibited and such harassment or intimidation will be subject to criminal prosecution.”