Congregation’s Lawsuit Against Teaneck Heading to Trial
Lawsuit claimed constitutional rights were violated by permit conditions.
A lawsuit alleging Teaneck’s zoning board violated a congregation’s constitutional rights when it imposed conditions on the group’s approval to use a Queen Anne Road residence for religious services is expected to go before a jury after a judge’s ruling Friday.
In a decision released this week, Bergen County Superior Court Judge Alexander H. Carver III denied motions by the zoning board and congregation for summary judgment. The issue stems from a December 2010 lawsuit filed by Orthodox Jewish congregation Etz Chaim after the zoning board imposed conditions on a house of worship permit granted to the group.
Etz Chaim argued the conditions violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights along with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, according to court papers. Restrictions include banning outdoor celebratory activities, a limit on days when services can be held and a block on signage.
“As we have said from the very beginning, the intrusive, oppressive and unequal restrictions imposed by the Teaneck Board of Adjustment on Etz Chaim as a house of worship strike at this nation’s most cherished freedoms and cannot be justified,” the group’s attorney Akiva Shapiro, of New York-based Gibson Dunn, said in an e-mail. “We are confident that a jury will agree when this case goes to trial, as the Court’s summary judgment opinion indicated it would.”
An attorney for the zoning board could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. In February 2011 court filings, the board denied the group’s allegations and sought to have the lawsuit tossed.
Etz Chaim has repeatedly sparred with neighbors over use of its property at 554 Queen Anne Road for religious services.
The congregation's Rabbi Daniel Feldman moved into the property and Etz Chaim owns the building, according to court documents and reports. Neighbors previously cited weekend noise caused by activity at the site. More than 70 residents signed a petition saying a family room added to the property was being used as a house of worship without the proper approvals.
In 2008, Teaneck officials issued a cease and desist order on the property after nearby residents circulated a petition.
The judge’s ruling found a host of factual claims in the suit to be explored at trial, including if the group’s President Robert Erlich consented to the zoning conditions and if he was “under duress” at the hearing.