Judge orders township to reopen hearings on a synagogue plan for former convent

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2001

ABINGTON, Pa. (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered a suburban community to reopen zoning hearings on a synagogue's request to move into a building formerly used as a Roman Catholic convent.

Abington Township violated a Reform Jewish congregation's right to equal protection by failing to consider the group's request for an exception to a zoning ordinance, a federal judge has ruled.

Congregation Kol Ami wants to convert an 11-acre estate into a synagogue and Hebrew school in this community outside Philadelphia.

Since 1990, the township zoning ordinance has barred religious institutions from residential districts, while allowing kennels and municipal complexes to locate in the same areas.

The town felt Kol Ami's proposed use would draw more people than the other organizations permitted to build by special exception and would increase traffic, noise and lighting.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer ordered the township to schedule zoning hearings on the special-exception issue no later than Aug. 6, and issue a decision by Aug. 15.

''This court has made it clear in its opinion that it will be watching to see what the township Zoning Board does,'' said attorney Jonathan Auerbach, who represents Kol Ami.

Township Solicitor Rex Herder did not comment on the ruling.

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