In May 2015 Boca Raton City Council approved the plan to build a synagogue at 770 East Palmetto Park Road. This would be the only “house of worship” on the barrier island in boca Raton. The Chabad of East Boca Raton has been in rented space for many years across from Sanborn Square in Downtown Boca. It was a dramatic and highly contested decision.

This June a panel of three judges ruled the decision was incorrect. Read on for some details.

City Council approved: “technical deviations”; non-concurrent uses and categorized a proposed museum in two ways: one as a museum for parking and one as a place of public assembly (museums are not a permitted use on the barrier island).

There was some very strong testimony from attorneys representing residents and businesses on the barrier island. Three legal actions were taken; Two “Writs of Certiorari” were filed and a Federal Discrimination suit.

An opinion of three judges filed on June 6, 2016 granted one of the writs, quashed the City Council’s resolution and remanded the matter back to the city. (see opinion of court below)

So the countless hours of testimony by members of the Chabad, residents of the barrier island, city staff and attorneys were all for naught. The Chabad is back at square one looking for a permanent home in East Boca.

While some may be celebrating a victory, in my opinion that victory came at a great cost. The debate: pitted neighbor against neighbor; accusations of anti semitism were made; homeowners fretted over what the future of the barrier island would be and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent.

In the end everyone involved has paid a price:

  • The Chabad and it’s members spent an unknown sum of money on architects, attorneys, subject matter experts. “Team Chabad” in their Flag emblazoned T shirts spoke and sat through long emotional meetings in City Council Chambers.
  • Residents who hired attorneys are out the fees spent fighting the building they believed would wreak havoc further exacerbating existing traffic and parking problems.
  • Taxpayers may also be on the hook as one of the legal actions may seek punitive damages from the city. There may also be attempts to recoup legal fees.

The damage is done and some of it may not be reparable. I hope time will permit those offended to forgive and forget.

Looking back there are many things that might have been done differently by all parties.

However at the end of the day the responsibility lies with those we elect to provide the proper governance for a peaceful, neighborly, secure and thriving city.

As I said at one of the meetings “if it was just built to code none of this would have been necessary.”  This assumes that the code changes the city made in 2008 renaming “houses of worship” to be “places of public assembly” was done properly.

In their zeal to accommodate the Rabbi and his followers the words of the zoning laws were misinterpreted and misapplied.

The laws are there to protect everyone and since they were not properly upheld everyone looses.

As I used to instruct those I mentored, “education can be expensive and often painful.”

I hope we’ve all learned a lesson.

Kevin Meaney, President Riviera Civic Association

 

Click here to read the Courts’s Opinion