Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Walks Back Two Bans

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Walks Back Two Bans

Article excerpt

MAHWAH – Heeding advice from its attorneys, the Township Council voted Thursday night to walk back two controversial ordinances that are the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General's Office.

The council introduced an ordinance Thursday that would do away with a ban on non-state residents in township parks and replace it with language that states Mahwah's parks and playgrounds may be used by "residents and non-residents alike."

The council also approved a separate resolution disavowing a proposed law that would have prohibited the posting of devices or "other matter," such as the white PVC pipes used to denote a Jewish boundary known as an eruv, on utility poles. That ordinance was introduced but never adopted.

Both votes were unanimous. Councilman Steve Sbarra did not attend the meeting.

The disputed ordinances initially drew support from hundreds who attended public meetings over the summer in protest of an eruv that was expanded from Rockland County into Mahwah and Upper Saddle River, sparking fears that ultra-Orthodox communities in New York State would spread into Bergen County. Residents had also complained of overcrowding at local parks, particularly by Orthodox Jews from New York.

But in a lawsuit filed in October, the state Attorney General's Office alleged the ordinances were discriminatory and aimed at addressing a feared "infiltration" of Mahwah by Orthodox Jews.

Council members have defended the laws as non-discriminatory.

On Thursday, Township Attorney Brian Chewcaskie said legal counsel had recommended the council reverse the ordinances as a "strategic move" while the township grapples with the state's lawsuit.

Council members, under instruction from Chewcaskie, would not speak publicly about the ordinances or the litigation. Following the vote, however, Mayor Bill Laforet launched into a speech that criticized the ordinances as "ill-advised. …

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