Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Miami Beach Settles Synagogue's Zoning Harassment Lawsuit for $1.3M

Miami Herald reports that a dispute between the Orthodox Jewish Congregation Bais Yeshaya D’Kerestir and Miami Beach, Florida zoning officials that was scheduled to go to trial in federal court yesterday has been settled, with the city agreeing to pay the Congregation $1.3 million on its 1st Amendment Code enforcement harassment lawsuit. (The city has already spent $1.7 million in legal fees on the case.) The city claimed that the 4-bedroom property at issue was operating as a synagogue in an area zoned residential. According to the Miami Herald:

People pray at the home daily, including for a minyan that requires at least 10 Jewish men to be present, according to the congregation. The congregation and its rabbi, Arie Wohl, argued that those prayer sessions — which sometimes include dozens of people, according to the city — are invitation-only and therefore constitute “private prayer.” 

“Just as any homeowner may invite friends for a Cub Scout meeting or a book club, Plaintiff and the full-time resident invite friends and family to join them for private prayer in their home,” the federal lawsuit says.

But the city says activity at the home went beyond private prayer. Code enforcement officers, using body-worn cameras, said they found evidence the house was operating as a synagogue, including an industrial-size coffee urn, a community bulletin board and benches for up to 30 people.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Congregation has agreed not to seek a religious tax exemption for the property in the future, and to restrict parking and use of outdoor speakers. The settlement also covered a related state court lawsuit.