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Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School – Yeshivas Tiferes TZVI, Inc. (“JDBY”) filed suit against the City of Evanston and its zoning administrator on May 11 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The complaint seeks an order declaring that JDBY may use and develop property at 222 Hartrey Ave. for an Orthodox Jewish elementary day school. The complaint seeks additional relief, including money damages, which are alleged to exceed $2 million.
The complaint alleges that JDBY, a religious institution that operates religious education programs for Orthodox Jewish boys and girls, purchased the property in December 2006.
The property, just south of the Howard/Hartrey shopping center, formerly housed Shure Brothers. The property is zoned I2- General Industrial District, which permits, as a matter of right, light manufacturing, offices, membership organizations and other specified uses.
The I2 zoning also permits certain “special uses,” including “Religious Institutions” if approved by City Council. Religious Institutions are defined in the zoning code to include synagogues, including any accessory use such as a school.
The complaint alleges that the City’s zoning administrator determined that JDBY’s proposed use was not a religious institution, but rather an “Educational Institution Private,” which is not permitted in an I2 zoning district, either by right or as a special use. After that ruling was made, JDBY sought to appeal the ruling and also requested the City to change the zoning of the property to permit a private school. The complaint alleges that City Council denied the zoning change focusing “primarily and impermissibly on the potential loss of property taxes resulting from the proposed use.”
It also alleges that the decision was arbitrary and unconstitutional and violated state zoning laws; that it infringed upon and burdened the rights of JDBY in violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act; that it violated JDBY’s free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and assembly in violation of the First Amendment; and that it denied JDBY of equal protection.