The Village of Pomona engaged in discrimination that targeted the Tartikov kehilla when it enacted ordinances that barred construction of a kollel building in Pomona, a federal judge ruled Thursday. The judge ruled that the Village violated the Equal Protection and Free Exercise Clauses of the United States Constitution, several provisions of the New York Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), and the Fair Housing Act.
Tartikov sought to build a kollel on its parcel of over 100 acres. Shortly after Tartikov acquired the land, the Village of Pomona began to adopt ordinances that imposed a ban on multifamily housing, restrictions on construction near wetlands in Pomona, accreditation requirements for colleges and schools to build there, and limitations on student housing and other features of educational institutions, leading to a ten-year legal battle. In his ruling Thursday, Judge Kenneth M. Karas of the Southern District of New York ruled: “Collectively, the Challenged Laws prevent the construction of Tartikov’s rabbinical college in the Village.”
Following the ruling, John Stepanovich, Esq., one of Tartikov’s attorneys, said: “From the inception of Pomona’s efforts to stop construction of the Rabbinical College, Village officials knew that it would be important to hide any suggestion of discrimination. But the animus of those officials and many residents in the community was so strong that they could not hide their opposition to the Orthodox Hasidic community that would be served by the Rabbinical College.
“This was the most egregious display of arrogance that I have seen in my entire career. Village officials believe they actually have the power to decide who has the right to live in Pomona. It took ten years and a decision from the federal court to finally expose their intentional discrimination, but the truth was revealed at trial and it was worth every minute.”
Roman Storzer, another Tartikov attorney, said, “In the United States of America, everyone has the right to live, worship and learn free of discrimination.”
Pomona’s chief attorney, Marci Hamilton, told The Journal News that her legal team will review the decision, but declined to comment further.
In addition to moving forward with plans to construct the kollel, Tartikov will seek to have the court require Pomona to reimburse its legal fees, which are in excess of $4 million.