Judge: Hartford Wrongly Told Jewish Organization To Cease And Desist
City originally said the Jewish use of the building was prevented by zoning
By Jeff Cohen
December 16, 2011
A few years ago, an Orthodox Jewish group opened a religious center for students at the nearby University of Hartford. But the city told them to stop. Now, as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, a state court judge says the city was wrong.
There are lots of big houses along Bloomfield Avenue. One of them used to be owned and operated by a Baptist church organization before it was bought for use as a Chabad house -- a place for Jewish university students to pray, celebrate and learn.
But in late 2009, the city issued a cease and desist order -- saying, among other things, that a student center was not a permitted use. The organization took that ruling to a city board, and lost. It then appealed to state court, and it won.
Coleman Levy represents Chabad.
"The judge came to the determination that it's always been used as a religious facility, and Chabad has the right to continue to use it as a religious facility, and it is properly zoned as a religious facility. Case closed, that's the end."
In a 12-page decision, Judge Maria Araujo Kahn overturned the city of Hartford's local board, saying it was not at all clear what reasons or basis it relied on. She went on to say that because the Baptists used the facility as a religious use, the Jews should be able to, also. The city had argued that the Baptists only used the building for administrative purposes.
Also, the judge said there was no evidence that the facility was being used as a student center -- a type of use to which the city objected.
Despite the victory, Levy says he still thinks his clients were unfairly treated.
"People are always uncomfortable, I think to some degree, when people are a little different. Chabad is an orthodox group, the men wear dark coats and have beards and wear black hats. I'm a tolerant individual and I hope that it didn't have any underpinnings of anything else that they just didn't want a religious facility in their neighborhood."
Efforts to reach the city were unsuccessful. The decision, though, could be appealed.