Zoning – Part 4

Church Law and Tax 1990-09-01 Recent Developments Zoning Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA •

Church Law and Tax 1990-09-01 Recent Developments


A New York state appeals court ruled that a city acted improperly in denying a synagogue’s application for a special use permit without making any attempt to accommodate the proposed religious use. The synagogue applied for a special use permit that would have allowed it to operate in a residential property. The city council rejected the permit application, and the synagogue appealed. An appeals court concluded that the city’s denial of the permit was “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” The court acknowledged that “there is no exemption from zoning rules for religious uses, nor is there any conclusive presumption that any religious use automatically outweighs its ill effects.” However, “where the applicant is a religious institution, more flexibility is required and efforts must be made to accommodate the religious use, if possible.” In fact, “every effort must be made to accommodate the religious use subject to conditions reasonably related to land use.” The court noted that the city council rejected the synagogue’s permit application “without making any attempt to accommodate the proposed religious use.” Such an act, concluded the court, was improper. The city had “an affirmative duty to suggest measures to accommodate the proposes religious use.” The court found that the synagogue’s proposed religious use could have been accommodated by the city: “For example, we observe that the accommodation of the religious use and maintenance of the public’s safety, health, and welfare could have been achieved by limiting the number of persons who could attend services or meetings at any given time, and by posting ‘no parking’ signs along the street to prevent hazardous road conditions, and by limiting the hours during which meetings or instruction could be held ….” The court ordered the city council “to issue the permit upon such reasonable conditions as will allow the [synagogue] to establish its house of worship, while mitigating any detrimental or adverse effects on the surrounding community.” This case will be helpful to any church or religious congregation that is seeking a zoning permit. Harrison Orthodox Minyan v. Town Board, 552 N.Y.S.2d 434 (N.Y. App. 1990).

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