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Federal RLUIPA act needs to be amended -Town Board votes to settle Fortress Bible Church lawsuit
Release Date: December 17, 2013

I plan to write to our United States Senators and Congressional representatives and will ask that they introduce legislation to amend the RLUIPA act - a federal statute that was approved by the United States Congress in 2000 to provide stronger protections for religious organizations. The current law makes it almost impossible for a locality to deny a church, mosque or synagogue the opportunity to obtain a building permit --even if there are legitimate traffic safety reasons to deny the application.  I believe that the law should be changed to provide local governments with the ability to ask the federal government to direct an appropriate federal traffic safety board to have the ability to   independently review traffic safety concerns expressed by local officials. If the independent safety board agrees with the locality -the application could be denied and the religious organization would have to find another location within the community or elsewhere to build their house of worship. If the independent federal traffic safety board disagrees with the locality, the application would be approved. The agency could also recommend traffic safety mitigation measures that could address safety concerns if the religious institution builds in a locality.Local governments could avoid lawsuits and religious organizations could avoid delays in obtaining permits under my proposal.

 

I'm writing this recommendation after the Town Board voted to settle a lawsuit with Fortress Bible. The amount of the settlement: $6.5 million. One million dollars will be paid by our primary insurance carrier this year.  We believe that we will receive additional coverage from another insurance carrier.

 

In 1999 the Town Board initiated a review of an application to build a 500 seat church (150 student school) on Dobbs Ferry Road near its junction with the Sprain Parkway.  We were advised by former Police Chief Kapica and our traffic consultants that there were safety concerns: inadequate site distance from 100A to 100B to the church entrance.  Cars heading southbound on 100B approaching the site would come over a hill and have inadequate stopping distance to the church entrance. If there is a light there could be rear end collisions. No light: rear collisions as well as unsafe traffic movements due to ingress and egress from the site. Other traffic concerns: cars would experience safety issues on entering and exiting the site. A light on 100B would create unsafe backups on the Sprain Parkway during peak hours.  The board rejected the application based on the safety concerns.

 

We were taken to Federal Court by Fortress Bible. And- lost. The town was ordered to issue a building permit- which we will issue once an application is filed.  If the church wants to start construction they can. Although I disagree with the courts findings against the town we are a nation of laws. The Town will welcome the church to our community and will not create any obstacles that will create problems for the church. Our objections were safety, safety and safety. 

 

This is the resolution that the Town Board approved on Monday.

 WHEREAS, beginning in or around 1999, the Town Board of the Town of Greenburgh (the

“Town Board”) considered an application for the construction of a church and school proposed to be built

by the Fortress Bible Church on Dobbs Ferry Road near its junction with the Sprain Brook Parkway (the

“Project”); and

WHEREAS, in April, 2004, after receiving the advice and analysis of, among others, the Town

Board’s traffic expert and the Town’s Chief of Police, the Town Board unanimously found that the

Project, as proposed, raised significant traffic and safety concerns and therefore, issued a Findings

Statement under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) which found that

the project, as proposed, did not mitigate all potential environmental impacts to the greatest extent

practicable (the “Findings”); and

WHEREAS, Fortress Bible Church and its pastor, the Reverend Dennis G. Karaman, brought a

lawsuit against the Town Board, among others, in Federal District Court in White Plains, New York (03

Civ. 4235), alleging, among other things, that the Findings violated the civil rights of the Church and of

Reverend Karaman; and

WHEREAS, following a bench trial, the Court (Robinson, J.) issued an Opinion and Order dated

August 12, 2010 which held, among other things, that the Defendants had violated Plaintiffs’ civil rights

in reaching their Findings; and

WHEREAS, the Defendants prosecuted an interlocutory appeal from the Opinion and Order to the

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; and

WHEREAS, by Opinion dated September 24, 2012, the Second Circuit affirmed the Trial Court’s

Opinion and Order; and

WHEREAS, both the Trial Court’s Opinion and Order and the Appellate Court Opinion dealt only

with liability and not with the issues of damages and costs; and

2

12/16/2013

WHEREAS, the issues of damages and costs having not yet been determined, the parties to the

lawsuit have been litigating the issues of damages and costs; and

WHEREAS, the parties now desire to conclude this matter without further litigation or

adjudication of the damages and costs issues; and

WHEREAS, after extensive settlement discussions, the Town and its insurers and the plaintiffs

in the Litigation have proposed to settle all outstanding issues (damages, costs, and attorney’s fees) in the

Litigation for the payment of $6,500,000 (Six Million, five hundred thousand dollars), with payment to

be made in the following manner: (1) $1,000,000 to be paid by the Town’s principal insurance company

before the end of December, 2013; (2) a payment by the Town of $2,250,000 on or before January 10,

2014; and (3) a payment by the Town of $3,250,000 by August 31, 2014, which will be made upon the

receipt of the proceeds from the sale of bonds that the Town will be selling, in calendar year 2014, as

part of its regular projected borrowing; and

WHEREAS, the proposed settlement is deemed to be just, reasonable, in the interest of the Town,

and in conformity with the requirements of New York Town Law Section 68(4); and

WHEREAS, the Town Attorney’s Office and the Town’s Trial Counsel have prepared and

reviewed proposed settlement documents, which, in the opinion of the Town Attorney, will fully and

finally settle all outstanding issues in this case in the manner and for the amounts set out above;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town Board of the Town of Greenburgh

hereby authorizes the Town Supervisor to sign those settlement documents on behalf of the Town, which,

upon receipt of the appropriate signatures from the plaintiffs and the receipt of all other necessary

supporting documents, will finalize an agreement with the plaintiff to end the Litigation under the terms

indicated above, at a cost not to exceed Six Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($6,500,000

PAUL FEINER

DON'T LOSE YOUR STAR PROPERTY TAX BREAKS. NYS REQUIRES EVERY HOMEOWNER WHO RECEIVES BASIC STAR TO REGISTER BY DECEMBER 31, 2013. IF YOU DO NOT REGISTER YOU WILL LOSE YOUR TAX BREAKS. IF YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED A LETTER FROM THE STATE CALL (518) 457- 2036 OR APPLY ON LINE http://www.tax.ny.gov
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