04/14/2017: Russian community synagogue files RLUIPA suit against Baltimore County for denial under "Byzantine" zoning regulations
The zoning of the property allows a house of worship as a permitted use by right. There is a single family home already located on the site, which ARIEL seeks to maintain as a home for its Rabbi. The Complaint notes that the Board of Appeals rejected its use for the Rabbi, although it would otherwise permitted to be used as a home. The Complaint describes the size of the proposed synagogue, which would have the same square footage as the house next door. Nonetheless, the Board of Appeals found that the synagogue was somehow incompatible with the surrounding area. The Complaint states that there was no reasonable justification for the Board’s denial, which was based on portions of the Baltimore County Zoning Ordinance that are so convoluted that a Board of Appeals member described them as “Byzantine” during public deliberations. The denial came after a year of hearings in front of the Board of Appeals, which followed lengthy proceedings before an administrative law judge. “Baltimore County’s system of zoning houses of worship is broken,” stated Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the congregation. “We’re dealing with constitutionally protected rights that should not depend on whether a use that’s permitted by right is opposed by hostile neighbors or the arbitrary and subjective whim of government officials.” Religious land uses are protected from undue burdens, discrimination and arbitrary treatment under RLUIPA, which was passed by Congress seventeen years ago to prevent such treatment against religious institutions in land use regulation.
Release, "ARIEL Russian Community Synagogue Files Federal Lawsuit Against Baltimore County and Board of Appeals," Baltimore Jewish Life (Apr. 14, 2017)
Both are represented by a Washington law firm that has represented churches, synagogues and mosques in land-use disputes across the country. Attorney Roman P. Storzer said county zoning regulations for houses of worship are "broken," and that the projects were rejected on "very subjective and, we believe, arbitrary grounds."
A. Knezevich, "Baltimore County faces federal lawsuits alleging religious discrimination in zoning cases," Baltimore Sun (Apr. 12, 2017)
A. Burnett, "Religious Litigation Arises in Baltimore County," WJZ (Apr. 13, 2017)
D. Weiner, "Church, synagogue suing Baltimore County over religious discrimination," WBAL TV11 (Apr. 14, 2017)