Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jewish Group Sues Litchfield Historic District Commission

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported on a Litchfield case brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, which requires that communities have a compelling reason to reject plans by religious groups to build or expand their facilities. "In Connecticut, RLUIPA cases have involved a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Meriden, a proposed Buddhist temple in Newtown and now the proposed expansion of a Jewish center in Litchfield. The latter battle has turned particularly testy, with thinly veiled charges of anti-Semitism." Litchfield's Historic District Commission, which exists to protect the historic ambience of the downtown area, has been sued by an Orthodox Jewish group called Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, after the commission rejected its expansion plans. The Chabad group currently occupies a 1,500-square-foot building. But when the organization purchased a 135-year-old house about a half mile away, and unveiled plans for a 21,000-square-foot addition that would include a synagogue, classrooms, kosher kitchens, and a community center, the historic commission rejected the plans, "stating that the sheer size of the addition would overwhelm the historic district. It proposed a compromise that would limit the building to 5,000 square feet." Chabad leaders dismiss the explanation for the rejection, citing "comments that were allegedly made about a Jewish symbol that would have been prominent in the project’s design. Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach claims a historic commission member said 'there is no place for a Star of David on the Litchfield Green.'"

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