“A federal appeals court Friday upheld a judge’s ruling that village officials adopted discriminatory zoning to block an Orthodox Jewish congregation from building a dormitory college for rabbinical students and their families.
As a result, Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov Inc. plans to file site plans and seek variances now that it has clear sailing for a college amid 130 acres straddling Routes 202 and 306, the congregation’s attorney, Joseph Churgin of Nanuet, said Friday.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 104-page ruling on U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas’s 2017 decision. Karas found that four zoning amendments adopted after the village learned of Tartikov’s plans were tainted by religious animus. He prohibited the village from enforcing the laws and issued a broad injunction sweeping away or modifying the zoning.
The village appealed, arguing Karas’s “finding of religious animus were clearly erroneous.”
The appeals panel judges stood behind Karas’ overall finding of discrimination, but overruled him on two zoning amendments made by village officials in 2001 and 2004.
“After careful consideration of the extensive record, we decline to overturn the district court’s findings that religious animus motivated the two zoning amendments passed after the plaintiffs’ wishes became known and thus affirm the injunction barring their enforcement,” Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote for the panel in a decision released Friday.
“But we respectfully conclude that there was insufficient evidence to support such a finding as to either of the two earlier zoning amendments and therefore reverse that portion of the judgment,” the panel decision ruled.
The appeals panel found the 2004 zoning law allowed dormitories prohibited by the 2001 amendment and loosened some restrictions related to acreage and road access. The 2001 law mandated the applicant seek a special permit with specific regulations decided by the village land-use boards or Board of Trustees.
“Insofar as the 2001 and 2004 Local Laws are concerned, however, we have come to the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed,” the decision states.
The panel accepted the village’s argument that its zoning laws did not adequately address permissible development for educational purposes, The two amendments were intended to address the issues and “would not impede … the planned project,” according to the decision.
“There simply is not enough evidence to permit a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the Village acted with discriminatory intent in adopting the 2001 and 2004 local laws,” the panel wrote. “Instead, the evidence suggests that legitimate land use concerns precipitated the passage of these laws.”
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