Clifton: A Double Whammy

Congregation Shomrei Torah has been trying to build a synagogue on the 40,000 square foot property they own in Clifton for over a decade.

Faced with very vocal opposition (in part from an organization called “Protect Our Neighborhood, Inc”) and municipal officials that bounced their application back and forth since 2008, the congregation was forced to bring multiple lawsuits asking that their application be considered and other limits imposed on their plans be declared arbitrary. Eventually, Clifton settled with Shomrei Torah in 2017, allowing them to build a synagogue, but requiring them to significantly reduce the square footage inside. In that settlement, the congregation explicitly “retain[ed] the right to pursue litigation against the City of Clifton for a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.”

Which the congregation then did.

In 2018, Weil, Gotshal & Manges (of suing Mahwah for banning eruvs fame) sent a letter to Clifton on behalf of the congregation asking for attorneys fees from the previous lawsuits pursuant to RLUIPA, which they said had been violated as the city had imposed arbitrary limitations on Shomrei Torah’s building and had treated them differently than other building applications brought before the municipality. The letter cited comments made about the wider Orthodox community in public hearings and variances for other houses of worship that had been approved without controversy.

After mediation in front of former NJ attorney general Christopher Porrino (of suing Mahwah for trying to keep Orthodox Jews out of parks fame), Clifton adopted Resolution 039-19 on January 3, 2019 settling with Shomrei Torah a second time. The congregation released all claims under RLUIPA in return for:

  • A $2.5 million payment towards their previous attorney fees. The bulk of this money will be paid by the city’s insurance carrier, minus an $150 thousand deductible.
  • Sidewalks and a crosswalk on the streets surrounding the synagogue, to be installed and paid for by the city.

Discussion and vote on settlement

Notice of Tort Claim

2018-03-22 Clifton Notice of Tort Claim

Resolution 039-19

2019-01-03 Clifton Resolution 039-19

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