BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
For the past 10 years, the Village of Pomona has been the center of the legal world in connection with a religious land-use application submitted by a religious organization on the corners of Routes 306 and 202. Now that a federal judge has ruled that the village intentionally discriminated against Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc., questions are swirling as to what and when the next steps would be.
United State District Judge Kenneth Karas found Pomona intentionally violated the College’s rights under federal and state laws, including the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), The Fair Housing Act as well as provisions of the United States and New York State Constitutions. Tartikov seeks to build a college to train potential students to become rabbinical judges in religious courts. The college owns the 130-acre parcel where it not only seeks to build the learning facilities, but also dormitories and housing for the students and their families.
However, with the ruling, it is doubtful that anything will immediately happen. Judge Karras ordered the submissions of proposed judgments by the parties over the next 45 days. Thereafter, it is likely that several weeks or months will pass before Judge Karras executes a judgment. The immediate impact might be the payment by the village of attorneys’ fees for the college. This figure is estimated to be over $4 million.
Also, after a judgment is signed, the village must accept and process the applications from the college for both special permits and site plan approvals. These applications will still be subject to public hearings and the Village will likely scrutinize every aspect of the application. The process may take many months or years. However, given the ruling after years of protracted litigation, the application will likely be approved.
The college will also likely be tax-exempt since it is a religious use. This may place a strain on the tax base in the village, forcing the village to seek revenues from other sources. Judge Karas’ ruling will have a deleterious effect on other municipalities seeking to pass laws to enforce zoning requirements. This decision may open the floodgates to other claims of discrimination by religious organizations if a municipality tries to create or enforce laws that are alleged to infringe upon religious uses of land or property.