The delicate balance between zoning laws and religious accommodation was once again the subject of discussion at a planning hearing held on June 28th in Chestnut Ridge to determine if local codes should be modified to allow houses of worship in the village.
Located just south of Monsey, the Village of Chestnut Ridge has seen a large influx of Orthodox Jewish residents in the last several years. Currently, the village’s zoning laws only allow houses of worship to be built on lots of five acres or more, very few of which actually exist within Chestnut Ridge.
Numerous village residents took advantage of the opportunity to share their thoughts at the hearing, with many saying that the proposed changes could be detrimental to Chestnut Ridge’s residential character. A significant number of others voiced their support for the modification which would allow prayer in both private homes and houses of worship, a reasonable accommodation of the needs of Chestnut Ridge’s Jewish residents.
Addressing the assemblage, Agudath Israel of America CEO Shia Markowitz explained that communal worship services are a central component of religious Jewish observance and that the Agudah has a history of advising and guiding religious institutions in similar situations. Mr. Markowitz also noted that with the dearth of large properties in Chestnut Ridge, the current zoning regulations effectively tell Orthodox Jews that they are not welcome and may violate the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.