The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has decided that several laws passed by the upstate village of Pomona could not be used to block development of a religious school and associated dormitory housing on village property.
Local governments in New York may regulate land use within their borders directly through their zoning codes and more indirectly by adopting a variety of other statutes and regulations. But there are limits to their power. Municipalities, of course, must not discriminate on the basis of religion in violation of the U.S. or New York State Constitutions or other applicable federal or state laws.
That was the message from a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in a long-running court battle over the possible construction of a rabbinical college in the village of Pomona, in Rockland County. In Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. v. Village of Pomona, No. 07–CV–6304 (KMK) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 7, 2017), the court decided that the village could not use zoning and other laws it adopted to thwart the proposed construction of a rabbinical college – and associated dormitory housing – in the community.
The court’s decision highlights the need for local officials to consider constitutional provisions and federal laws, as well as state requirements, when enacting laws affecting religious uses.
The Southern District case involved approximately 100 acres of land in Pomona purchased in 2004 for about $13 million by the Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. Tartikov sought to build a rabbinical college on the property that would include housing for its students – all affiliated with the Orthodox Jewish community, including various sects of the Hasidic community – and the students’ families. According to Tartikov, the on-campus housing would permit students to study from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and also to meet their religious obligations to their families. Tartikov believed that, without the housing, its program would fail.
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Anthony S. Guardino, a partner with the law firm of Farrell Fritz, P.C., practices in the areas of land use, zoning, and environmental law. Resident in the firm’s office in Hauppauge, Long Island, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the New York Law Journal, March 2018.