The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Appeals court nixes Chabad museum on Palmetto

By Sallie James

    It’s over — at least for now.
    A proposed orthodox synagogue and museum that spawned three lawsuits and packed City Hall with angry residents will not be built.
    The 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach in November decided not to hear an appeal by Chabad of East Boca Raton to allow the proposed 18,000-square-foot project at 770 E. Palmetto Park Road. Chabad filed the appeal after a lower court in June ruled the city erred in allowing the project because zoning in the area did not permit a museum.
    The Chabad must submit a new site plan that doesn’t include a museum if it wants to proceed or find another location for the museum, according to City Council member Robert Weinroth.
    Rabbi Ruvi New, the congregation’s spiritual leader, said his congregation would seek another location for the My Israel museum and submit a new site plan for Palmetto Park Road without the museum.
    “It means we have to redo the site plan to comply with the court’s ruling. We have already begun,” New said. “[We’re] very disappointed, yes. But our attitude is really to not dwell on the disappointment but simply to look for the way forward and to continue the journey.”
    David Roberts, the owner/broker of Royal Palm Properties across the street, asked a lower court to review the City Council’s approval of the site plan, saying its resolution “departed from the essential requirements of the law.”
    The appeals court decision strikes a serious blow to the project’s viability, said John R. Eubanks Jr., attorney for Roberts.
    “Based on the fact that all five judges approved and there is no written opinion, it would be very hard to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court,” Eubanks said. “Instead, the Chabad will need to start all over again with a new application.”
    Weinroth stood by the decision to approve the site plan.
    “The council continues to believe the lower court erred in concluding that a museum could not be approved by the City Council within a zoning district that did not specifically list it as a permitted use,” Weinroth said. “This was notwithstanding the fact that museums have been permitted in other areas of the city where the zoning district made no specific mention of museums.”
    Weinroth also noted that height allowances in the area were revised since the Chabad’s original site plan was approved and the project’s extra 10 feet above the area’s 30-foot limit would be denied in a new plan.
    The council approved Chabad’s plans in May 2015, despite the zoning in the area not permitting a museum, Palm Beach County Circuit Judges Meenu Sasser and Lisa Small and County Judge Ted Booras wrote in an earlier opinion that disallowed the project.
    That decision resulted in the Chabad’s motion to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
    Even granting the property owner’s contention that a museum in this case is a “place of public assembly,” Sasser, Small and Booras said, officials should have insisted that the .84-acre site have 239 parking spots, not 81.
    It’s been a difficult month for the Chabad. Benefactor Irwin J. Litwak, who donated $2.7 million toward the proposed synagogue property in his parents’ honor, died Nov. 25 at age 80.
    As for finding another location for the museum, New said that “it’s a more scenic route to our destination than we would have liked. We will just keep moving forward.”
    Chabad has been trying to find a larger place to meet for years. This is the second time parking has tripped up its plans.
    In 2008, the congregation wanted to move into a 23,000-square-foot building near Mizner Park but was unable to meet parking requirements there.

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