Page 11 - RE-NJ #80 Nov.2023
P. 11

Michael Kaplan, a Holocaust survivor who became a prolific New Jersey homebuilder and the second- generation leader of the Kaplan Cos., has died at age 83.
The Highland Park-based firm announced that he died Nov. 1, noting that Kaplan expanded the company founded by his father with massive single- and multifamily development projects from Middlesex County to the Jersey Shore. Notably, he also filed a high-profile lawsuit against a municipality that blocked his plan to build affordable housing, sparking litigation that lasted for more than a decade and preceded the landmark Mount Laurel case in 1975.
“It is with a heavy heart and
profound sadness that I inform you
of the passing of our father, Michael Kaplan,” Jason Kaplan, president of Kaplan Cos., wrote in a LinkedIn post. “He passed surrounded by his family and loved ones. He was a great man that touched and influenced the lives of everybody that knew him. The world was a better place because of him. His strength and perseverance will inspire us forever.”
Michael Kaplan was born inside a concentration camp in April 1940
and later relocated to various Nazi death camps, including the notorious Bergen-Belsen camp, according to
an obituary provided by the firm. He ultimately emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1950s with his parents, Nathan and Fela Kaplan, and his younger brother Morris, arriving in Brooklyn before settling among other Jewish refugees as chicken farmers in Toms River.
The family’s real estate business began when Nathan Kaplan saw the economic potential of returning Korean War soldiers seeking affordable homeownership on the G.I. Bill, the obituary said. Michael Kaplan, who was attending Rutgers University at the time, joined the company after earning a graduate degree in engineering in 1961.
The Kaplans steadily expanded
their portfolio, often building entire neighborhoods while also developing retail and other property types. Michael Kaplan’s lawsuit against what is now the township of Old Bridge came in 1966, leading to
13 years of litigation that included three appearances before the state
Supreme Court and, ultimately, a victory for the developer.
The firm noted that the case, Oakwood v. Madison, was a precedent for the Mount Laurel decisions that have guided affordable housing policy in New Jersey in recent decades.
“The Mount Laurel approach is not the solution to affordable housing,” Kaplan later
said, according
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          to the obituary.
“The solution is
a cooperative
effort between
developers and
with both sides
donating land,
giving concessions and becoming creative.”
In 1970, Kaplan acquired 450 acres
of farmland between routes 1 and 27 in North Brunswick to create Hidden Lake, an ambitious combination of single-family homes, apartments, townhouses and retail, the firm
said. It was one of the first planned unit developments in the state and went on to be duplicated across the country, as the developer embarked on a nationwide search for architects and landscape designers who were providing fresh, new looks to home construction.
In the obituary, the firm also pointed to Michael Kaplan’s longstanding support of Jewish charities, including The Jewish Federation
of Greater Middlesex County, Hadassah Hospital, Everyman’s University and Solomon Schechter Day School, as well as the Highland Park Conservative Temple. When the synagogue suffered a horrible fire
in August 2006, the company said, he and his wife, Helen, rebuilt the sanctuary now dedicated in memory of their parents.
Personally, Kaplan loved vacationing and spending time with family, as well as movies, photography and reminiscing about his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, the obituary said. He is survived by his wife Helen and brother Morris, as well
as children Lisa, Amy and Jason and their respective partners, nine grandchildren and a great granddaughter.
Michael Kaplan

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