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Ruling holds zoning laws can't prevent yeshiva addition

By The Associated Press
03.06.06

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A federal judge has upheld the controversial Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, holding that the Village of Mamaroneck's zoning laws cannot be used to block a Jewish school's new 44,000-square-foot building.

Judge William Conner, who has handled the case since 2002 and held a trial in November, found in a decision made public on March 3 that the village zoning board must approve an application from the Westchester Day School for construction on its property in Mamaroneck's upscale Orienta Point neighborhood.

Conner said the denial "was so contrary to the evidence and to the equities as to be arbitrary and capricious." He said the federal law - often called RLUIPA - was violated because the school proved that the village's action "substantially burdened its religious exercise" and the village failed to prove that it had no other remedy for problems it alleged would accompany the building.

The board had raised issues of traffic, parking, esthetics and property values in battling the application from the 400-student school, but the judge said the concerns were insufficient.

However, Conner stayed his order pending an appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, acknowledging that there have been different interpretations on the scope of the law. The law restricts local governments' power to block the expansion of religious institutions.

Kevin Plunkett, Mamaroneck's attorney in the case, said the judge's suggestion of an appeal made the ruling "a veiled victory for the village," though he expressed disappointment with the bottom line. He said he was recommending an appeal and the village's "initial reaction is to appeal."

However, the school's attorney, Joel Haims, said the decision was "a complete victory for the Westchester Day School."

The land-use act "was enacted to protect situations just such as this, where the school has been there for 55 years and never had any complaints from its neighbors," he said.

Lawyers for both sides said the case could reach the Supreme Court and is being watched around the country. The federal government is currently suing the Rockland County village of Airmont, alleging that its ban on boarding schools violates the religious freedom of Hasidic Jews.

Plunkett said Conner "is pretty much saying that any religious school is exempt from zoning and we contend that cannot be the case."

Mamaroneck is about 20 miles north of New York City.


Update
N.Y. village can't block Jewish school's expansion, 2nd Circuit says
Three-judge panel upholds lower court decision that Mamaroneck violated RLUIPA by denying Westchester Day School permit to expand its facilities. 10.18.07

Related

Philadelphia suburb can keep churches, temples out of residential areas

Federal appeals panel agrees that such buildings can create traffic problems, but leaves door open for Jewish congregation to prove case before lower court. 10.17.02

Feds accuse N.Y. village of discriminating against Hasidic Jews
Justice Department claims Airmont's zoning code barring boarding schools violates religious freedom of congregants. 06.18.05

9th Circuit: Calif. county must allow Sikh temple
Panel upholds lower court decision that officials violated RLUIPA by denying congregation's request to build temple on land zoned for agriculture. 08.05.06

Feds accuse N.Y. village of violating RLUIPA
U.S. government files lawsuit, saying Suffern officials violated land-use law by denying zoning variance for residence used by Orthodox Jews visiting local hospital on Sabbath. 10.01.06

RLUIPA, religious buildings & zoning

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