Here on the Sanchez & Polovetsky eminent domain blog, we like to take a look at the often colorful side of eminent domain lawsuits. Mostly we focus on New York, but here and there we find something that we want to share across the border. By that, we mean New Jersey.
Valley Chabad is a Jewish Orthodox organization that has been looking for a larger facility for more than ten years. Over that time the group twice entered into contracts to purchase property without success. Each time the town of Woodcliff Lake effectively blocked their purchase of those properties by acquiring them by using eminent domain or by modifying the applicable zoning laws.
For reference, Woodcliff Lake is 20 miles northwest of New York City and just over the New Jersey border from Rockland County, New York (where towns such as Monsey and Airmont have concentrations of Orthodox Jews).
The town recently announced that it has reached an agreement in a federal lawsuit that accused it of illegally denying this Orthodox Jewish group’s attempt to expand its footprint. The agreement is being reviewed by a judge and, if approved, would result in the town of Woodcliff Lake allowing Valley Chabad to expand its existing property. It also means that the town will pay Valley Chabad $1.5 million to settle a separate lawsuit filed by the group against the town.
And now the interesting story behind the suit: In 2018, the U.S. attorney’s office sued the town of Woodcliff Lake, alleging that the town violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when it blocked Valley Chabad from buying additional property or expanding its existing building.
Did we mention that there was a third attempt by Valley Chabad too? According to the lawsuit, on that third occasion the town modified zoning laws so townhomes could be built on the same property that Valley Chabad was seeking to buy. Consequently, the Seller of that property cancelled the contract with Valley Chabad.
Valley Chabad also previously attempted to request zoning modifications in an effort to expand their existing property. Those too were rejected by the town. Woodcliff Lake has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. In its Court filings, the town alleged that the plans submitted by Valley Chabad (in connection with their modification request) failed to meet zoning requirements governing houses of worship, such as minimum lot size and parking capacity.
The town has publicly stated that Woodcliff Lake’s goal “is and always has been to engage in sound planning, common sense development, and beneficial environmental practices while fully respecting the constitutional right of religious freedom,” the town said. “The voluntary settlement with Valley Chabad strikes this important balance and provides us with a path forward unencumbered by costly legal action.”
Hopefully, all sides can come to an amicable resolution of this case. As always, we will keep you posted!!