Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 28, 2019

NY Appellate Court Reverses Zoning Denial for Proposed Synagogue and Religious School

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

In a decision released in March, the Third Department of the New York Appellate Division reversed a zoning denial for a synagogue and Orthodox Jewish educational facility that was proposed in the Town of Wawarsing. Places of worship, the court found, were defined in the ordinance to expressly include not only traditional religious spaces such as churches and synagogues, but also related religious education uses such as school halls and student housing.  Matter of Yeshiva Talmud Torah Ohr Moshe v Zoning Bd. of Appeals of The Town of Wawarsing, 2019 NY Slip Op 02409 (NYAD 3 Dept. 3/28/19).

The proposed development in this case included two synagogues, classroom facilities, on-site residential space for the rabbi, and student dormitory and dining facilities. Although “places of worship” were a permitted use in the zoning district where the property was located, the town’s municipal code officer and the zoning board of appeals determined that the proposed facility would be more akin to a school or a camp, neither of which were permitted uses.

The Third Department reversed the zoning denial on appeal and held that the Yeshiva qualified as a “house of worship” under the plain terms of the zoning code. The town conceded that the synagogues and rabbi’s residence were permissible under the classification for “houses of worship,” and the court pointed out that the express language of the zoning ordinance included the types of school faciilities that made up the rest of the Yeshiva’s proposal. In particular, the ordinance defined a place of worship as the “[u]se of land, buildings, and structures for religious observance, including a church, synagogue, or temple and related on-site facilities such as monasteries, convents, rectories, retreat houses, and fellowship or school halls.” As the court explained, this definition clearly encompassed the Yeshiva’s proposal for an on-site school hall to provide religious education attendant to the site’s use for synagogue worship, and the Yeshiva’s student housing facilities were similar in nature to the examples of permissible “related on-site facilities” provided in the ordinance, such as monasteries and retreat. The court noted in conclusion that “this definition unambiguously includes the living facilities proposed for students of the school, particularly in light of petitioner’s representation that its purpose in constructing the facility is to provide religious instruction at a location with tranquil natural surroundings that facilitate reflection and study — a use that is consistent with a retreat house — and, thus, such facilities are permitted uses under the Town’s zoning ordinance.”

Matter of Yeshiva Talmud Torah Ohr Moshe v Zoning Bd. of Appeals of The Town of Wawarsing, 2019 NY Slip Op 02409 (NYAD 3 Dept. 3/28/19)

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