Temple B’Nai Zion and the City of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida have settled their four-plus years of litigation over the Temple’s appeal of the City’s historic site designation of property owned by the Temple and used as a synagogue. We previously reported on the case a year ago, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court’s dismissal, finding the case ripe for review under traditional notions of ripeness, and choosing not to apply the Williamson County ripeness test.
The Temple purchased the property from the Epiphany Lutheran Church and claimed that the former church building, which it used as a synagogue, required certain renovations in accordance with the Temple’s religious beliefs: (1) have the seating area face east, not west; (2) change the floor plan, which was in the shape of a crucifix from when the building was used as a church; (3) create separate seating areas for men and women; and (4) change the building’s triangular shape, which was meant to symbolize Christianity’s Holy Trinity. The City designated the Temple’s property a historic landmark based on a 2004 Holocaust remembrance ceremony, which was held on the property and attended by 200 Holocaust survivors. The designation prohibited the Temple from altering or demolishing the synagogue.
The Temple sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the U.S. Constitution, and state law. It claimed that the City’s designation of its property was a pretext to prevent any modifications to the building.
Under the settlement, the Temple’s property will retain its historic designation, but the Temple will be permitted to undertake some structural changes to the building. The parties also agreed to execute a restrictive covenant that will maintain the historic character of the property as a religious institution. Although no party was awarded attorneys’ fees, the City will pay the Temple $175,000 and will deposit transferable development rights (TDRs) in the amount of 15,000 square feet and five dwelling units to be set aside in a separate bank account designated by the Temple (TDR sub-account). The Temple can either request that the City sell the TDRs, which, if sold at more than $100 per square foot will be split equally between the City and the Temple, or they can be transferred to sites designated as receiving sites under the City’s zoning code. The remaining unused development rights on the property (40,000 square feet and 20 dwelling units) will be the maximum amount of allowable development rights that can be used for building purposes.
The City Commission’s resolution approving the settlement, the settlement agreement, and the restrictive covenant are available here.