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Report: Feds Launch Religious Discrimination Probe Of Woodcliff Lake

Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos A. Rendo
Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos A. Rendo Photo Credit: Carlos A. Rendo

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. -- Federal authorities reportedly are investigating allegations of religious discrimination against a Jewish congregation that's been trying to build a new worship center in Woodcliff Lake.

Valley Chabad last year filed a federal lawsuit against the town -- whose mayor, Carlos Rendo, is gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno's running mate for lieutenant governor -- alleging harassment and obstruction over a 16-year period.

Politico reported Friday that the Justice Department told Rendo in a June 16 letter that it was conducting a religious discrimination investigation.

This came about a month before Guadagno, the current lieutenant governor, tapped him to join her on the ticket to replace outgoing Gov. Chris Christie.

“While he is not personally being investigated, Mayor Rendo is cooperating fully in his official capacity as mayor and looks forward to these false and ridiculous allegations being dismissed,” Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz told Politico.

The lawsuit contend that Renso said an Orthodox Jewish group wanted to turn the borough into a "little Jerusalem."

What had been private concerns over the Jewish congregation’s purported plans to create the regional center on a prized property in Woodcliff Lake officially went public in October 2013 .

A group calling itself Concerned Neighbors & Residents of Woodcliff Lake, Inc. opposed plans for the Galaxy Gardens Landscaping property at the corner of Werimus Road and Woodcliff Avenue — which the residents’ group called “the crossroads of our community” -- across from the municipal pool, athletic fields, recycling center and tennis courts, and next to Our Lady Mother of the Church.

Chabad-Lubavitch, a 250-year-old branch of Hasidism that boasts 3,300 institutions worldwide, said it wanted the 2.1-acre parcel for a school, temple and meeting hall there.

Chabad-Lubavitch requires a variance because the borough's zoning doesn't permit houses of worship in a residential zone on properties of less than 3 acres.

The religious group had been meeting by the hundreds in a home on Overlook Drive, across from Temple Emanuel. Overcrowding brought warnings from borough officials, however, so the meetings were moved to the Woodcliff Lake Hilton.

Other towns had been considered — among them, Ridgewood and River Vale — as well as other parcels in Woodcliff Lake, they said. But Galaxy Gardens has topped the organization's list.

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