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Judge denies request to bar weekday services at Lawrence synagogue

A Nassau State Supreme Court justice denied a

A Nassau State Supreme Court justice denied a Lawrence resident's request to bar weekday services at Bais Medrash of Harborview Orthodox Synagogue, seen on Jan. 9, 2016. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

A Nassau State Supreme Court justice has denied a Lawrence resident’s request to bar weekday services at a local synagogue.

Last year, the Lawrence Village Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) granted the synagogue, Bais Medrash of Harborview, a yearlong trial for weekday services, thus suspending, at least for that period, an 11-year-old agreement between the village and the synagogue barring such services except on holidays.

Many residents were upset about the new services, and one — Bonnie Septimus — went to court to challenge the board’s right to grant the trial period.

She argued that the limited use of the synagogue, at 214 Harborview South, was an essential condition of its establishment in 2005 in the predominantly residential neighborhood and since nothing had changed materially, the BZA’s action was arbitrary and capricious.

She also argued that the BZA lacked the authority to grant a temporary and conditional permit.

In his ruling, dated Dec. 15, Justice Daniel Palmieri disagreed.

“The Court finds that the petitioner [Septimus] has failed to show standing to assert her claim of lack of authority, and the decision itself was not arbitrary and/or capricious,” he said. “The petitioner’s arguments addressed to the substance of BZA’s action are without merit.”

Palmieri noted that the BZA applicant was a religious organization and that “New York courts have recognized that special treatment should be afforded . . . religious entities seeking to expand in residential areas.”

He added that the prior BZA determination prohibiting opening the synagogue for weekday services raises the potential application of federal law that prohibits a “substantial burden” on religious exercise by a religious assembly.

And he noted that the synagogue “indeed has submitted a brief opposing the petition which seeks to annul it.”

Synagogue officials could not be reached.

Nor could Septimus.

Christian Browne, her attorney, with Sahn Ward Coschignano of Uniondale, said he disagreed with the decision but he thought an appeal was impractical because the trial period ends in August, “probably long before the case would get to a judge.”

Howard Avrutine, the BZA lawyer, said the village board tried to strike a balance between the needs of the community and the synagogue, “and I think it accomplished that. The weekday program has been operating since August and is doing well. I think it’s a huge plus for the community.”

Not everyone agreed.

Liza Mantovani, who lives nearby and said she has lived in the area for 65 years, said she is unhappy about the decision. “They just keep giving them everything, with nobody caring about the residents here. Enough is enough. Anyway, I hear these things are already a done deal when the residents hear about it.”

Carla Cannuti, who, like Mantovani, lives in the neighborhood, said: “I don’t see where it makes much difference. There might be more traffic, but the school already operates during the week.”

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