FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Meyers Calls for Local Governments to
Pass Uniform Resolution Calling for Repeal of RLUIPA
Trustee Joseph Meyers of the Village of Airmont has called for the Rockland County Legislature, the Town of Ramapo and all Villages in the Town of Ramapo to pass a resolution demanding that the United States Congress repeal the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.The federal law, which was passed by Congress in 2000 and signed by then President Clinton provides, in part, that "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution-(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
But, Meyers and many legal experts insist that the application of the law has been contorted to define any type of development desired by a religious group as "religious exercise" regardless of size and scope and including all forms of housing and schooling which are not "religious" in nature, and the law places an unreasonably high burden on municipalities to demonstrate that there is a "compelling" government interest in not approving any proposed construction. Meyers, a practicing attorney who has studied the law, found that some courts have been largely unwilling to concede that the local governments or neighbors have some role to play in the process by attempting to maintain reduced housing density, maintain the aesthetic beauty of a neighborhood or prevent increased traffic and burden on water and sewer resources.
"The net effect of the law, however well intentioned, is that it is taking the land use and zoning decisions away from the local governments in our country and blindly and uniformly providing religious organizations with a legal hammer to force municipalities around the country into allowing the construction of whatever multi-family housing or other institutional type construction such religious groups wish to build in a community without regard to size or scale or the health, welfare or safety of the community", said Meyers.
Meyers has first-hand experience with this law as the Village of Airmont was sued by Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov, Inc.in 2002 alleging a violation of RLUIPA. The Congregation had applied for variances and permit approval to build a large religious school, dormitory and townhouses which could ultimately house 1,000 people off a country road on Hillside Avenue in a semi-rural part of Airmont which is zoned for single family housing on large lots. The Congregation and the Village of Airmont are still in federal court 5 years later. The Villages of New Hempstead and Suffern have faced similar lawsuits.
Meyers has been speaking out against the law ever since. The Ramapo Council of Village Trustees (on which Meyers sits on the Executive Board) recently sponsored a legal forum to discuss RLUIPA and its legal impact on communities.
"The law is decimating the treasuries of local municipalities who oppose such development," said Meyers. Airmont has already spent over $100,000 on its own attorneys fees to fight the lawsuit. "Under RLUIPA, if we lose, we must also pay the attorneys fees of the party suing us", said Trustee Meyers. "The law stacks the deck against municipalities that strive to achieve reasonable planning and land use decisions that maintain the character of their suburban neighborhoods."
Meyers has called upon the Rockland County Legislature, the Town of Ramapo and the Villages within Ramapo to pass a uniform resolution asking that the United States Congress repeal RLUIPA and return land use decision-making back to the local municipalities where such decision belong.
The issue has recently been highlighted again as a result of a proposal soon to be submitted to the Village of Pomona by The Rabbinical College of Tartikov in Brooklyn to house almost 5,000 people on a wooded site on the eastern side of Route 306 at Route 22 in Pomona.
"If this application follows the usual path we’ve seen, the applicant will threaten to sue under RLUIPA and bankrupt the Village of Pomona if the Village Board does not concede to the applicant’s building demands," said Meyers.
"It’s time for our local governments to join together and speak with one voice on this issue which threatens the future of the Town of Ramapo and the County of Rockland", said Meyers.