Zoning, while seemingly dry and technical, can have a major impact on people’s lives and their ability to transact business or pursue organizational goals. In one case that went beyond zoning or real estate law and led to a federal lawsuit, Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey allegedly impeded an Orthodox Jewish group’s effort to expand its facilities. The parties reached a settlement that grants relief to the group, according to a Sept. 15 announcement by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Expansion blocked

Woodcliff Lake is 20 miles away from New York City and just over the border from towns in New York such as Monsey and Airmont that have concentrations of Orthodox Jews. The Jewish organization started to search for a larger facility over 10 years ago.

The organization twice entered contracts to purchase the property. But the town intervened and bought the land through its eminent domain powers.

On the organization’s third attempt to purchase the property, the town modified its zoning laws so townhomes could be constructed on that property. After this zoning change, the property owner cancelled the sale to the organization.

The organization also charged that Woodcliff Lake denied its numerous requests for zoning modification to enlarge its existing property. The organization claimed that a borough official asked its rabbi how its organization differed from the Monsey religious community.

The town denied these allegations. In court filings, it said that the group’s plans did not comply with minimum lot size, parking capacity and other zoning requirements governing houses of worship.

Lawsuit filed

The U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Woodcliff Lake in 2000. It charged that the town violated the religious land use and institutionalized persons act by blocking the organization from buying more property or expanding its existing facility.

If the federal judge approves the settlement, the town will permit the organization to enlarge its existing property. Woodcliff Lake will also pay the organization $1.5 million to settle another lawsuit that the organization filed against the town.

The town said that this settlement is intended to address competing interests in addition to resolving a costly legal action. These include sensible planning, practical development, favorable environmental practices, and constitutional religious rights.

An attorney can advise you on zoning matters that impact your plans to build or expand a home, business, or other facility. A lawyer may also represent your interests and rights in zoning proceedings