By Sallie James
It’s “game on” once more in the on-again, off-again legal wrangling surrounding a proposal to build an Orthodox synagogue and Israel museum east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Local activists Gerald Gagliardi and Kathleen MacDougall filed an amended complaint in federal court in August in their effort to prove that Boca Raton created unconstitutional legal classifications through “corrupt dealings,” and then wrongly approved a zoning classification specifically tailored to allow construction of Chabad of East Boca on 0.81 acres at 770 E. Palmetto Park Road.
The lawsuit seeks costs, attorney fees and compensatory and punitive damages.
City officials typically do not comment on pending litigation.
Gagliardi and MacDougall live within walking distance of the proposed synagogue and claim the project will snarl traffic in an already congested area and create parking issues. The lawsuit also claims the project’s height of 40 feet, 8 inches — the area limit is 30 feet — will mar the ambiance of a neighborhood characterized by low-rise development.
The Boca Raton City Council approved plans for the 18,000-square-foot Chabad of East Boca synagogue and Israel museum in May 2015 and controversy has swirled since.
Plans for the project are on hold due to pending lawsuits. The synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ruvi New, continues to keep the faith despite repeated setbacks.
“We look forward to moving beyond the litigation and on to construction, God willing,” New said.
Gagliardi and MacDougall filed an initial complaint against the Chabad project in February.
However, a federal judge dismissed that complaint in late July, claiming the duo failed to prove they had suffered injury as a result of the city action.
Chabad has been trying to find a location to build for years.
In 2008, the congregation wanted to move into a 23,000-square-foot building near Mizner Park, but was not able to meet parking requirements.
“The amended complaint shines the spotlight on a shell game of city corruption …,” MacDougall wrote in an email. “Thousands of residents, of every race, creed and color depend on a mere 1,393 feet of road to gain access to the Palmetto Park Bridge and the mainland. A ‘make it so’ managerial style of city governance is not acceptable when it comes to public safety.”
The new four-count complaint, filed on Aug. 12, accuses the city of initiating a change in city code to “unconstitutionally advance and create special privilege” for Chabad.
The complaint alleges the city approved “an increased height of the building” as well as “deviations, variances and knowingly erroneous interpretations of city rules, regulations, laws and ordinances, all conducted to advance the religious purposes of the Chabad.”
The plaintiffs claim they will be harmed by the influx of additional traffic that will be funneled into their neighborhood as a result of the proposed synagogue, and that emergency services will be adversely affected.
“Completion of the Chabad further will alter the beach-oriented, relaxed and low-intensity character of [their neighborhood],” the lawsuit states.
Supporters of the project say the Chabad is perfect for the area and will increase property values. They disagree the project will snarl traffic even more because Chabad members walk to services per their religion.
By Sallie James