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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chabad of Nova gets OK to go ahead with zoning suit

COOPER CITY - An orthodox Jewish congregation that claims Cooper City's zoning laws discriminate against religious institutions can move forward with several counts of its lawsuit, a federal judge ruled.
Chabad of Nova Inc., filed an eight-count complaint against Cooper City in May claiming that the city's zoning laws are illegally designed to protect the city's tax base by banning all tax-exempt houses of worship from commercial districts.
The city filed a motion to dismiss the suit in June, but United States District Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled against dismissing at least three of the eight counts on Monday.

In one of the counts upheld, the Chabad claim Cooper City violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act because they permit day care centers, a non-religious assembly, to operate in the business district but prohibits religious assemblies.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Franklin Zemel, who is representing the Chabad of Nova, said, "We're very pleased with the results.''
But Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Burke, who is representing Cooper City in this case, said the judge's ruling was a mixed since some of the counts were dismissed and some the city will have to answer.
According to the lawsuit, the city has discriminated against houses of worship for 30 years by relegating them to the western, agriculturally-zoned borders in order to protect its tax base. Houses of worship do not pay property taxes.
Zemel said Rabbi Shmuel Posner opened a Chabad Outreach Center in the Timberlake shopping plaza last year, but was booted out by Cooper City because of its codes. Posner has temporarily moved the outreach center to 8276 Griffin Road in Davie.
Last October, Cooper City relaxed its ordinance by including houses of worship in office parks and recreational facilities, but the commercial district ban remained.
Despite the changes, Zemel said the city is still violating federal law because new religious congregations tend to start by renting in a commercial district and they don't have that option in Cooper City.

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