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Cronheim v. Congregation Zvi Lazadeek

A-0297-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; USE VARIANCE—Simply providing an additional room for prayer and study by children of members of an existing congregation does not make a replacement building for an existing house of worship into a new house of worship that would require a use variance.

A challenger sued a municipal planning board claiming it had “acted arbitrarily in granting variances and site plan approval to” an applicant. The applicant sought variances to replace a building on a lot “with a new, larger structure” to be utilized for a similar purpose. The applicant’s plan proposed that the building’s second floor would “hold an apartment for the Congregation’s caretaker[,] ... two apartments for visiting clergy[,] [t]he first floor [would] hold a kitchen and a ‘gathering room,’ in which grade-school aged children [would] receive religious instruction, and the basement [would] hold a playroom for younger children.” The challenger claimed that since “the ‘gathering room’ include[d] religious elements, a Bimah and an Ark, ... [when] the Board authorized a new ‘house of worship’ [it] expanded a non-conforming use on the lot that [held a] synagogue without notice to the public that such action was under consideration.”

The Appellate Division disagreed with the challenger, finding that the applicant’s proposed use did not “make the new building [into] a ‘new house of worship.’” The Court found no merit in the challenger’s “claim that the new building should meet all requirements of the zoning ordinance applicable to a newly established ‘house of worship,’ simply because it provides an additional room for prayer and study by children of the members of an existing congregation.” Finally, the Court concluded that the “Board’s use of the term ‘accessory’ to describe activities ancillary to and supportive of the synagogue’s inherently beneficial use” did not “make a principal building on a separate lot an accessory building within the meaning of a zoning ordinance.”

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