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JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ASSEMBLY HALLS OF NEW JERSEY C

October 10, 1984

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ASSEMBLY HALLS OF NEW JERSEY CITY, INC. AND WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, GERALD McCANN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, MARK T. MUNLEY, INDIVIDUALLY, AS ZONING OFFICER, AS DIRECTOR OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND AS AGENT AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY; ROBERT R. SHORTELL, INDIVIDUALLY, AS CONSTRUCTION OFFICIAL AND AS AGENT AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY; ANTHONY LAMBIASE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AGENT AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY; MICHAEL REGAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AGENT AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY; LOUIS HAMPTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AGENT AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY; JOHN DOE, A FICTITIOUS NAME; AND RICHARD ROE, A FICTITIOUS NAME, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBEVOISE

I. The Proceedings.

 Plaintiffs are Jehovah's Witnesses Assembly Halls of New Jersey, Inc., a New Jersey nonprofit corporation, referred to as "New Jersey Witnesses" herein, and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., a New York nonprofit corporation referred to herein as "Watchtower."

 Defendants are Jersey City, its Mayor, Gerald McCann, and various Jersey City officials and employees performing duties relating to zoning, planning and the administration of the zoning, planning and construction ordinances.

 Plaintiffs seek preliminary and final injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment and damages. Their basic grievance arises out of the refusal of the City authorities to permit them to repair and renovate the Stanley Theater and ultimately to use it for their religious purposes. Plaintiffs seek preliminary injunctive relief confined to their request to undertake initial repairs and maintenance of the structure, deferring any request for relief relating to their ultimate use of the theater to a later date. A hearing was held on the application for preliminary injunctive relief.

 Each side presented witnesses and offered exhibits. The testimony concerned the present condition of the Stanley Theater and the extent to which the New Jersey Witnesses' June 21, 1984 application for permits for repairs and maintenance seeks authorization of electrical and plumbing features going beyond existing equipment and facilities.

 II. The Facts.

 Jehovah's Witnesses consider the study of God's word, as contained in the Bible, to be central to their religion. They accept a mandate "of Jehovah to preach and spread the good news of Jehovah's Kingdom with Jesus seated as king." (Plaintiffs' post-hearing memorandum at p. 6.)

 As part of their religious practices Jehovah's Witnesses meet in homes and as congregations of Witnesses in church-like buildings known as Kingdom Halls. Groups of congregations are known as circuits. These circuits meet periodically in assemblies drawing 3,000 to 4,000 persons. Attendance at circuit assemblies and the conduct of such assemblies is part of the religious practice and discipline of this religious body. Because of the growth of Jehovah's Witnesses in Jersey City, Newark and the New York metropolitan area generally, there is a need to have a facility which can accommodate groups of several thousand persons. Larger national assemblies of Witnesses drawing 150,000 to 250,000 persons are held. Participants in these national assemblies have been quiet, orderly and disciplined.

 Besides weekly meetings at their Kingdom Halls, Jehovah's Witnesses regularly attend three larger religious assemblies each year - primarily the circuit assemblies. Circuit assemblies which are two days in duration and are held on weekends to accommodate those who work during the week, are held in theaters, convention halls, arenas and auditoriums year round. A typical circuit assembly program might include musical presentations, live dramatic presentations, slide shows and movies, all of a religious nature. Such features of circuit assemblies, together with the large number of people in attendance, are designed to give Jehovah's Witnesses a sense of brotherhood and unity in their worship.

 One of Plaintiffs' primary uses of the Stanley Theater would be to hold circuit assemblies there on weekends throughout the year. Circuits of congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses from the Jersey City/New York City area and environs will attend the circuit assemblies held at the Stanley Theater. The Stanley Theater will also be used for other large gatherings of Jehovah's Witnesses for various special events throughout the year, including graduation exercises for Jehovah's Witnesses' missionary school and special presentations about Jehovah's Witnesses in foreign countries and the religious work going on there.

 The Stanley Theater is located in the Journal Square area of Jersey City, an area which plays an important part in the City's long-range planning.

 Pursuant to the requirements of law in the State of New Jersey, the City of Jersey City has had prepared for it a Master Plan Review. This Master Plan Review was completed in January of 1984.

 This Master Plan Review specifically addresses commercial development in the Journal Square area. Examples of this in the Review are as follows: At page (iii):

 "Marketing studies have been done to encourage private investment in the back office development of Journal Square, including a fiber optics cable, which is being run from Downtown New York through Downtown Jersey City and terminating in Journal Square."

 At page 8, the Master Plan Policy recommendations show in the Journal Square area:

 ". . . the creation of a viable mixed-use center through regional offices, additional housing, and preservation of community shopping."

 Page 24 of the Review deals specifically with commercial uses. It states that:

 ". . . commercial land uses comprise both retail activities and office activities."

 Page 25 of the Review reflects the fact that:

 "Journal Square is a key commercial zone of the City of Jersey City."

 Page 26 states that:

 ". . . the merchants in the area are experiencing slight slumps in sales which are attributable to the overall recession. Further, the primary office center in Jersey City is Journal Square, which is the center for financial institutions, legal offices and business services. The orientation of these offices is primarily local rather than regional. However, the recent movement of Citibank computer operations to the PATH Center building, as well as similar proposals by other firms, indicates that the character of the Square's office activities may be changing."

 Page 28 of the Master Plan Review shows the volume of existing transportation facilities in the Journal Square area, demonstrated by the chart on page 42. Page 53 further highlights the commercial and office use in the Journal Square area of Jersey City.

 In 1968 the Journal Square Bowl Blight Study was approved by the Municipal Council of the City of Jersey City. Pursuant to that blight study, the Journal Square Bowl Redevelopment Plan was adopted by the Municipal Council of the City in July 1974. This redevelopment plan, which encompasses an area directly west of the Stanley Theater, has resulted in the construction of a 50,000 square foot office building completed in 1984.

 More recently, in June of 1984, the Journal Square Study Area Blight Report and Journal Square Redevelopment Plan was approved by the Planning Board of the City. This redevelopment plan takes in a portion of Journal Square, which is directly southwest of the Stanley Theater. According to an article in the Jersey Journal, there is a proposed development for this area on which is now located the Loew's Theater and C.H. Martin Department Store. This project contains a 40-story office tower.

 Additionally, the City has seen the construction or rehabilitation of several buildings in the Journal Square area; for example, the Port Authority Trans Hudson Transportation Center, which is directly south of the Stanley Theater; the Plaza Hotel conversion into a Senior Citizens' building, completed in 1984; the AIDS Equity office building, completed in 1984, which is located on the southwesterly side of Journal Square; and the rehabilitation of 26 Journal Square, a 16-story office building, which is being rehabilitated with the benefit of an $800,000 Urban Development Action Grant.

 All of these projects have been augmented by a concentrated effort of the various departments of the City. These departments include the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, the Jersey City Department of Housing and Economic Development, the Jersey City Division of Urban Research and Design, and the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.

 The Stanley Theater was built in 1928, and since its construction it has been used primarily as a movie and vaudeville theater. It is located, as previously stated, in the Journal Square area of Jersey City. Under the present zoning ordinance, adopted after the construction of the theater, the theater is located in an area zoned "C-1 Central Business District."

 The purpose of the C-1 Central Business District is set forth in Section 1405 of the Zoning Ordinance to be: "The purpose of this district is to recognize the unique merging of mass transit facilities in Journal Square, the established commercial pattern, and the development intensity. The C-1 District expands the present Journal Square boundaries to encourage higher density residential and commercial uses around the mass transit facilities. It also allows a mixture of uses in high-rise structures, requires off-street loading and requires a reduced level of required off-street parking in view of mass transit services plus parking garages being permitted as a principal use."

 Permitted uses include retail sales of goods and services, offices and financial institutions, medium and high-rise apartments, restaurants, hotels, government facilities, recreation and athletic facilities, parking garages and lots and, most significant to this case, theaters and convention halls. Use of the Stanley Theater as a theater or convention hall is thus a permitted use under the Zoning Ordinance.

 Houses of worship are not designated as permitted uses, permitted accessory uses or conditional uses in the C-1 zone. Nor are houses of worship permitted in the following zones: C-2 Office and Retail; C-3 Shopping Center; C-4 Finance and Business District; C-5 Neighborhood Commercial revitalization; I-1 Automotive Construction Office; I-2 Intensive Industrial; I-3 Industrial Park.

 A house of worship is defined in the ordinance as, "A building for the assembly of members of a designated faith for religious instruction and worship of a diety such as a church, synagogue or temple."

 Houses of worship are Permitted Uses in R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-3A residential zones. They are a conditional use in R-4 High Density Residential Zones.

 Section 104 of the Zoning Ordinance provides that: "All uses not expressly permitted in any given use district are expressly prohibited in such use district. No structure or addition thereto shall hereafter be built, moved or remodeled, and no land shall hereafter be used, occupied, reoccupied, designed or improved for use or occupancy except ...


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