Federal lawsuit challenges new Chabad in Boca

Posted at 6:50 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 18:50:17-05

The fight to keep a Chabad center from moving to the barrier island in Boca Raton is going to federal court.

Last year, the city council approved a plan for the Chabad of East Boca Raton to build a new center at 770 E. Palmetto Park Road.

The new center will include a synagogue and exhibit space called "My Israel." 

Monday, two Boca Raton residents filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Boca Raton.

Kathleen MacDougall and Gerald Gagliardi both live close to the new Chabad location.

In the suit, they allege the city gave the Jewish congregation preferential treatment during the zoning and approval process. The lawsuit says a series of "secret meetings" and back door deals led to changes in ordinances and land use rules to allow the Chabad to relocate.

The suit alleges the city violated the constitutional rights of citizens by favoring one religion over others.

The suit claims the city improperly permitted the land to allow religious centers, and approved variances which did not meet the legal criteria. 

Pennsylvania-based constitutional law expert Marci Hamilton is representing the plaintiffs. Local attorney, and the executive director of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park DIstrict, Arthur Koski is also representing the plaintiffs.

A city spokesperson says the city has not been formally served, but found out about the lawsuit today, and reviewed a copy of the filing posted to social media.

The spokesperson released a statement, which reads in part, "We believe that this case is without merit and that the City’s defense of this frivolous suit will be an unnecessary cost to the residents of Boca Raton. As with all litigation filed against the City, once served, the City will review the case and prepare a response."

The Chabad of East Boca Raton is currently located at 120 NE 1st Avenue. A call to the rabbi today was not returned. In the past, he has said the Chabad is outgrowing its space and he has been looking for a new location for some time.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to stop any construction on the new location until the case can be reviewed. It does not appear any construction has begun.