Mike Diederich Jr.
Pomona (NY) creates plan to pay Rabbinical College $2.5 million
September 18, 2021|Rockland County
[The below is from the "Rise Up Ocean County (NJ)" website.] The flawed Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act continues to be used by the orthodox Jewish community as a sledgehammer against municipalities that deny applications for development or changes of use. The Village of Pomona is just the latest of small Rockland County villages to be bludgeoned in court spending $5 million to defend itself against a Rabbinical college and now starting payment toward the $2.5 million it owes to the plaitiff toward legal fees. The village Board of Trustees has authorized payment of $2.5 million to cover a rabbinical college's legal costs in an ongoing 13-year-old court fight over the development of a dormitory school. The board had set aside $1 million in the village budget toward paying the federal court-ordered fees and voted Monday night to seek an estimated $1.5 million bond to pay the rest. Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov originally sought $5.2 million in legal fees, but District Court Judge Kenneth Karas settled on $2,481,661, comprising $2,390,927 in attorneys’ fees and $90,734 in legal costs, according to the judge's 42-page decision released in April. Pomona has spent more than $5 million over the years defending against the lawsuit. The costs will rise as Tartikov continues its federal court fight. Judge decides legal fees: Pomona ordered to pay the rabbinical college $2.4M in legal fees, less than demanded. Tartikov has been challenging Pomona's zoning laws as discriminatory since 2007 under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, known as RLUIPA, and other laws protecting religion.
Judge ruled against Pomona, but overruled Karas ruled in 2017 that four village-adopted zoning laws were discriminatory and approved to block the construction of the college. But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Karas on two of the laws, contending the other two were neutral on the issue of religion. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Tartikov's appeal of the second circuit ruling. Tartikov is asking Karas for a reboot by asking him to throw out two of the zoning law rulings and has filed additional legal actions. The village board's majority saw Karas's decision rejecting 60% of the fees sought by Tartikov as a victory. As for the payment plan, the board's trustees noted Monday the administration inherited the legal action Tartikov kicked off in 2007. Tartikov still has not submitted site plans or sought zoning variances to build the college buildings and dormitories within 130 wooded acres along the Route 202-306 corridor. The rabbinical college's lack of action became an issue in the court rulings. The second circuit supported Karas' decision dissolving the village's 2007 Wetlands Law and 2007 Dormitory Law on Equal Protection and RLUIPA nondiscrimination grounds. The panel, however, overruled Karas' decision against the village's 2001 and 2004 laws, finding no discrimination. The 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. Legal costs contested Tartikov's lead attorney, Joseph Churgin, didn't immediately comment on the village's payment plan for several law firms representing the congregation. Attorney Brian Nugent, who represents the trustees, said in an email Churgin had been notified the $1 million had been approved in August and the village voted to seek a bond financing through its counsel, Hawkins & Delafield, and financial advisor. When Karas ruled on the legal fees, Churgin called the award "a very substantial amount of money that will ultimately be the responsibility of the village taxpayers,".and "should be seen as a warning to municipalities to not engage in discriminatory practices such as the village engaged in here." The board's four-trustee majority said at the time they were "pleased that the court has rejected almost 60% of the damages sought by Tartikov and rejected over 80% of the costs sought by Tartikov."
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RLUIPA impact on Rockland zoning The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 has been used as a hammer against municipal zoning decisions on religious institutions across the nation. In Rockland, the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish populations have grown substantially over the decades along with the communities' needs for housing, private schools, and synagogues. In the East Ramapo School District, the NAACP and other advocates for people of color won legal action to change how board members are elected and millions of dollars in legal fees. RLUIPA has been the fulcrum of legal actions by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish congregations Airmont, Pomona, Chestnut Ridge, and Suffern. Chestnut Ridge approved a house of worship zoning only to be sued for financial stress by congregations and a citizens group for catering to the congregations with the law. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan has taken Airmont to court for the third timeon religious discrimination grounds. Airmont and federal prosecutors are discussing a settlement. Previous court actions have dissolved some of Airmont's restrictive zoning on houses of worship and dormitory schools.