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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 18Dec01
By Kent Larsen
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LDS Church Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Harrison, New York

HARRISON, NEW YORK -- In a new attempt to get its proposed Harrison New York Temple built, the LDS Church today filed a major civil rights lawsuit against the Town of Harrison, its town board, planning board and zoning board of appeals and against the town building inspector, alleging a conspiracy to deprive the Church of its civil rights. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants "deprived plaintiffs of the ability to use their property to construct a place of worship . . . and have engaged in other acts which violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights."

The lawsuit marks the beginning of a new phase in the Church's attempt to build the Harrison Temple, after more than five years of trying to work through the town's zoning laws, and after a lawsuit last year that overturned the Town's Zoning Board of Appeals in its denial of a height variance for the Temple's steeple. But the outcome of this phase and how long it will last is still not clear.

The Church is still in the process of getting a "special exception" permit from the Harrison Town Board hat covers how the Temple will be used. The permit is the final requirement necessary for the Temple, following the already-obtained approval of the Harrison Planning Board, and a still-in-dispute zoning variance from the Harrison Zoning Board of Appeals. When the Zoning Board of Appeals turned down the application, the Church went to acting state Supreme Court Justice Peter Leavitt, who overruled the board, ordering it to grant the variance. [In New York State, the Supreme Court is not the highest level in the court system. It is a trial court, and its decisions can be appealed to an appellate division, and then to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.] In April, the town filed an appeal of Leavitt's decision, which has not yet been heard.

The 38-page-long complaint filed Monday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York details the events during the past five years that the Church says amounts to a violation of its rights. The complaint alleges that the more than five years spent in the approval process so far is "unprecedented" and that most of the hearings and meetings held by the various town boards have been "taken up by the Opponents making long, repetitive statements against the Church and its temples."

According to the Church's complaint, what should have been a five-month-long review process before the Planning Board, that review process took three and a half years. It also alleges that the Planning Board created new standards not required under the law and forced the Church to meet those standards. And when the Board finally approved the Church's plans, it did so with severe restrictions in the building's size, prohibiting the Church from operating a Visitor's Center, Genealogy Center or any kind of festival or pageant on the property.

The allegations also indicate that the Harrison Town Board interfered in the process, trying to change the zoning ordinances after the Church had filed its applications. Board members appeared at the Planning Board meetings and the Mayor expressed his disapproval of the Church's plans in public, and the Town Board held hearings on the Temple in an attempt to influence the Planning Board's vote. All of this, the Church alleges, is inappropriate given that the Town Board would eventually review the Planning Board's decision.

The Church also alleges that the Town Zoning Board of Appeals delayed its decision process and eventually rejected the Church's application, exceeding its authority. That decision was then overturned by a New York State Supreme Court Judge, and an appeal of his decision hasn't yet been resolved.

Then earlier this year, the Church's application reached the Town Board itself, and, according to the allegations, the Town Board failed to hold timely hearings as required by law, and violated the law in its procedures. When the hearings were again held, the Church claims, the Board allowed the Temple's opponents to delay the process with filibusters for another six months. The complaint also alleges that the Town Board tried to condemn the Temple site for park land.

These allegations, says the Church, add up to a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act of 2000, a law introduced in the U.S. Congress by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The Town's actions, the complaint says, "have imposed a substantial burden on plaintiffs' exercise of religion." These actions have put the Church "on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies or institutions," and, according to the complaint, "discriminates against [the Church] on the basis of religion."

The defendants in the lawsuit must now respond to these allegations, or acquiesce to the Church's demands. The response itself will take weeks, if not months, and a judgement in this newly-file case could be years away. Meanwhile, the appeal of a judge's reversal of the Zoning Board of Appeals decision must still be resolved, and the Town Board, which will meet in February for more public hearings on the Church's application, will wait another six months for the New York firm Vollmer and Associates to conduct a new traffic study (the fourth traffic study on the Harrison Temple) looking at traffic patterns at the LDS Temples in San Diego, California; Toronto, Canada; St. Louis, Missouri and Orlando, Florida during all day Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.


Corporation of the Presiding Bishop et al. v. The Town/Village of Harrison et al.
U.S. District Court Southern District of New York 17Dec01 D1
Charles A. Goldberger: McCullogh, Goldberger &Staudt, LLP

New study poses delay for Mormon temple plan
Westchester co NY Journal News 7Dec01 D1
By Karen Pasternack: The Journal News

See also:
Harrison Temple Delayed, Issue in Recent Town Board Election

Residents Question Traffic at Planned Harrison NY Temple

Environmentalists Gain Support from Harrison NY Temple Dispute

Town Meeting Highlights Neighbor Feelings Over Harrison Temple

White Plains Temple Presentation Attracts Opponents

LDS Church Proceeds With Final Steps for White Plains NY Temple

Harrison NY Appeals Decision Favoring Temple

NEWSFLASH: Harrison Temple Gets Judge's Blessing

Proposed White Plains Temple Loses Zoning Decision

White Plains New York Controversy Makes Local News

LDS Leaders Request Fast For New York Temple

White Plains Temple Opposition Intensifies

Mormon News' Coverage of Zoning Challenges to LDS Building Projects


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