NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) - A Jewish group says the City of Hartford denied them the right to use a building for religious purposes, though Baptists and Catholics used the building to practice their religions for more than 80 years.
Chabad Chevra and Chabad House, nonprofit religious corporations, bought a house from the American Baptists Churches of Connecticut to use as a Chabad House. Chabad, also known as Chabad-Lubavitch, is one of the major groups of Hasidic Judaism.
The National Catholic Mission Center for the Philippines used the building for religious purposes from 1926 to 1958, then the American Baptists used it for religious purposes from 1958 until 2009.
Two months after buying the house, Chabad Chevra says, a city zoning officer served it with a cease-and-desist order. The group says it was ordered to stop using the building for religious purposes, based on an inspection that took place a month before Chabad Chevra bought the property.
Chabad says it tried to reduce its religious use of the building but Hartford demanded that it stop all religious practices and have denied its appeal.
Chabad calls the actions anti-Semitic.
It claims Hartford violated its rights by "preferring other religious institutions over the plaintiffs' proposed religious institution and sect ... [and] discriminating against the Jewish community in general and the plaintiff's proposed university student religious use in particular."
Chabad Chevra and Chabad House say they lost their $310,000 because they can't use the house for its intended purpose.
They seek a declaratory judgment that the city's actions are unconstitutional, damages, and an injunction allowing them to practice their religion in the Chabad House.
They are represented by Michael DePrimo of Hamden.
Meanwhile, in Guilford, CT:
GUILFORD — After engaging in a four-year dispute and short trial in January, Goose Lane residents and Chabad of the Shoreline must now wait months for a judge’s decision on Chabad’s plans to build a religious center.
A lawsuit filed by the residents in 2008 went to trial for four days in New Haven Superior Court and was completed at the end of January, but a resolution won’t be announced until the summer, according to Goose Lane resident Donna Criscenzo.
She testified with neighbors Sherrye McDonald and James Colebrook against Chabad of the Shoreline’s proposal to construct a 13,700-square-foot synagogue and day care center at 181 Goose Lane, saying it violates a covenant in the parcel’s deed.
They allege that the proposed religious building violates a covenant that was formed by Charles and Amy Dudley when the land was sold in the 1950s and says the property can be used only for farming or homes. The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction against construction.
“We still feel it (the center) is inappropriate and we don’t want it there,” Criscenzo said. “It’s inappropriate because of its size, lot coverage and scope of activities, and the noise and traffic it will cause. It will be towering over our homes, changing the neighborhood’s residential character.”
Criscenzo is a medical doctor who has an office in her home.
Old Saybrook-based attorney Edward Cassella, who represents the Goose Lane neighbors, said the neighbors have the right to enforce the covenant because their land was owned by the Dudleys when the covenant was imposed.
“You acquire the interests of the person who sells you the property,” he explained.
But Chabad of the Shoreline argues that only the Dudleys had the right to enforce the covenant, and both are deceased.
Rabbi Yossi Yaffe, director of Chabad of the Shoreline, also testified at the trial, in addition to title attorney David Royston, based in Middletown and Old Saybrook, and Idaho resident Jared Dudley, the son of the covenant’s original grantors.
Yaffe and attorney Jonathan Starble of Hartford, who represents Chabad of the Shoreline, said they could not comment on the case, while the group’s second attorney, Marjorie Shansky of New Haven, did not return a message left for her.
Chabad of the Shoreline, a group that practices a branch of Hasidic Judaism and is based in Branford, filed an application with the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2006 to erect the religious center on a 1.2-acre site and to receive a special permit, since the site was zoned residential. After revisions and numerous public hearings, the PZC approved the application 4-3 in December 2008.
A house currently on the property, which is near Interstate 95 exit 59, would be demolished to make room for the new construction. The center will have a synagogue, classrooms, a day care and playground, a commercial kitchen and a social hall.
Neighbors have argued against the development since it was proposed, claiming there will not be enough parking for the center and that Goose Lane can’t support on-street parking, property values will decrease, and center activities may take place daily and nightly.