Thursday, May 19, 2011
Most land use professors are familiar with the town of Ramapo, New York, whose phased-growth program was upheld as constitutional nearly 40 years ago. Among other things, the court in the famed Ramapo case found that the town’s program was “far from being exclusionary” and sought only to “provide a balanced and cohesive community.” Interestingly, certain land use controls in one Ramapo village have proven far more vulnerable to constitutional challenge for their exclusionary effects.
Recently, the Village of Airmont (which is located within Ramapo) settled a lawsuit filed under the RLUIPA and Fair Housing Act relating to the Village’s zoning prohibition on boarding schools. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office brought its claim against the Village back in 2005 after the Village denied a permit application from the Hasidic Jewish Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov to construct a religious boarding school in the community.
According to recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the Village finally settled the lawsuit a couple of weeks ago after expending more than $450,000 in legal fees. The May 9 consent decree formalizing the settlement gives the Village until October 15, 2011, to amend its zoning code to allow construction of the religious school and to otherwise bring its code into compliance with federal laws “prohibiting discrimination and unreasonable imposition on religious freedom.”
This isn’t the first time that Airmont has effectively lost a discriminatory zoning claim. According to the New York Times, the Village previously had to amend its zoning ordinances in response to a 1991 Fair Housing Act claim contesting a zoning prohibition on the use of private homes as places of worship.
These constitutional zoning challenges in the decades following the Ramapo case offer at least some support for the theory offered by Fred Bosselman back in the 1970s (see generally 1 Fla. St. L. Rev. 234, 248-50 (1973)) that exclusionary motives were partly behind the town’s famous phased-growth scheme.