Re: Friends of Lubavitch “Discrimination” campaign
From: Neighbors of Aigburth Manor, Towson
December 7, 2018
A group of Maryland residents, as well as the judiciary, are facing vicious attacks as anti-Semites for attempting to enforce zoning laws and a restrictive covenant.
In order to prevent the court-ordered demolition of a large structure on their property at 14 Aigburth Road, the Jewish outreach group, Friends of Lubavitch (FOL), has launched a world-wide publicity campaign, with a video, portraying the neighbors and the judges who decided the case as “anti-Semites,” and the destruction of the building to “Kristillnacht,” the beginning of the Holocaust. In doing so, they continue lies and distortions previously rejected by the courts. Unfortunately, FOL’s scurrilous accusations are being reported without correcting the facts, leaving the public with the impression the allegations are true.
- FOL claims, and the Baltimore Sun reports, that a “religious hospitality center” for thousands of Jewish students is being demolished because it “violates zoning laws,” leaving the impression the center is a legitimate operation.
NOT REPORTED is the fact that the Baltimore County Board of Appeals determined the center is permitted solely as a residence for the Rivkin family, and is operating in violation of its permit and County zoning laws as a community center.
- FOL claims the neighbors oppose the building because they are anti-Jewish and have an “agenda” masked by a “patina of legality.”
NOT REPORTED is the Board’s finding of years of community tolerance and acceptance of FOL’s Chabad activities in the neighborhood, which ceased only when FOL proposed drastic expansion of its building.
- FOL claims the neighbors, determined to “remove the Jews” from their neighborhood, searched for and found a 1950’s covenant that “nobody knew about.”
NOT REPORTED was Circuit Court Judge Souder’s finding that FOL had “actual notice” of the covenant and its provisions from the time of purchase in 2008. FOL knew then the covenant prohibited ANY construction in front of the house.
Judge Souder also found building the Structure in front of the house, in violation of the covenant, was deliberate, “not an honest mistake.”
Additionally, when the neighbors did learn of the covenant, shortly after issuance of the building permit, they immediately notified FOL and Rabbi Rivkin. FOL claims at that time the building was “in the middle of construction.” Court records show construction had not yet begun, only preliminary excavation.
- FOL claims to be “shocked” by the order to demolish the building, claiming the order and neighborhood opposition are “total acts of prejudice.”
NOT REPORTED is the warning from the Administrative Law Judge in 2016, when he approved the “residential” permit for use solely by the Rivkin family:
“Petitioner (FOL) is hereby made aware that proceeding at this time is at its own risk…If for whatever reason this Order is reversed, [i.e. it is determined by a court the building is not solely a residence], Petitioner would be required to return the subject property to its original condition.”
(In 2017, the Board of Appeals determined the building was a “community center,” not a “residence.”)
- The Sun reports the Board found FOL “insincere” in representing its building as a “residence.”
NOT REPORTED are the findings of the Board, and other courts deciding this matter that FOL and Rabbi Rivkin acted “dishonestly,” “manipulatively,” in “bad faith,” and with “unclean hands.” The permit for a “residential” building was “dishonestly procured.”
- FOL claims “all legalities” were in place before receiving its permit and beginning construction.
NOT REPORTED is the fact that FOL, to this day, has not complied with zoning requirements for the community center it operates. The Board found FOL was illegally “operating a community center without having obtained the necessary approvals or complying with the necessary regulations, including the Residential Transition Area requirements.”
THE TRUE STORY
Ten years ago, FOL purchased a small home on Aigburth Road in Towson, (a neighborhood zoned residential), to use as a Chabad House, a synagogue and student hospitality center, for students at Towson University and Goucher College. They obtained a Maryland property tax waiver as a “Jewish student center” which they maintain to the present.
Though operating a Community Building in a residential neighborhood, FOL made no effort, then or ever, to comply with Baltimore County zoning requirements applicable to all such commercial operations, namely: 1. “Change of Occupancy” permit to change the “use” of a residential building; 2. “Special Exception Hearing” for approval of a “Community Building”; and 3. zoning variances to comply with Residential Transition Area, parking, and non-residential principle setbacks.
At the time of purchase in 2008 FOL had “actual notice” of a restrictive covenant on the property, prohibiting ANY construction in front of the existing house. (Judge Souder Opinion, 4/7/17, p.11) The title report for the property contains the terms of the covenant and Rabbi Samuel Kaplan, FOL President, at settlement, signed a title insurance waiver for any litigation arising from disputes related to the covenant.
Judge Souder in her Opinion found the covenant to be “reasonable, valid, and in full force and effect.” Building the structure in violation of the covenant, she said, was deliberate, not an “honest mistake.”
FOL did not challenge these rulings on appeal.
For 8 years FOL operated its Chabad House in the original home with NO opposition from the neighbors. As noted in the Board of Appeals Opinion, September 5, 2017, pp.12-13, “Ms. Zoll and her husband… experienced many of the side effects of the pre-construction community center activity but were willing to tolerate the relatively low-level of activity involving noise, trash, and parking. It was only when Rabbi Rivkin unveiled plans for a massive construction project that she [and the other neighbors] began to take steps to protect their property.”
“Like most people of goodwill, the neighbors tolerated the growing activities [in the Chabad House] until it was announced that Lubavitch was going to expand the size of the structure with the corresponding natural expansion of its activities. At that point, the neighbors attempted to block the dramatic alteration of their neighborhood.” (CBA Opinion, p.16)
In 2014, FOL unveiled its plan, a structure tripling the size of the existing home. The building was too large to meet side setback requirements for a commercial building in a residential neighborhood and, as the neighbors would later learn, its placement in front of the existing house also violated a restrictive covenant.
For two years before construction began in 2016, neighbors met with the Rabbi and FOL representatives to discuss ways, if possible, to accommodate FOL’s desired expansion. During those discussions, the “use” of the building, a Chabad House, was not an issue for the neighbors, only the size and placement of the building on the property. In the end, FOL refused to reduce the size of the structure or make any change in its plans. Its only gesture for the neighbors was to throw some dirt against the foundation to make the building “look shorter.”
In April, 2015, FOL filed a Petition for a Special Hearing, asking the County’s Administrative Law Judge for confirmation as a “residential parsonage.” The County zoning department determined a “parsonage” could not be constructed without a “special exception” and compliance with Residential Transition Area (RTA) requirements, which establish buffers when placing a commercial or institutional building in or near an established residential neighborhood. FOL never applied for a special exception and all parties acknowledged the RTA, or buffer requirement for the massive building, could never be satisfied on the small lot. The ALJ denied the Petition and FOL did not appeal.
Instead, in early 2016, to avoid setback and other zoning restrictions needed for the commercial building they intended to build, FOL filed a second Petition for Special Hearing, this time seeking permission to construct the 6,600 square- foot structure in front of the existing house, under the guise of a “single family residential dwelling” (not a Chabad House). The proposed “addition,” they claimed, would be used only as “additional living space” for Rabbi Rivkin and his family. The plans submitted were identical to those submitted at the previous hearing.
On April 6, 2016, the ALJ issued an Opinion reiterating that 14 Aigburth cannot be used as a community building without zoning compliance. With these cautionary words, the ALJ took Rabbi Rivkin at his word and granted the “residential” Petition, approving the construction of an addition to “an existing single family residential dwelling to be used solely as additional living space for the family who reside therein.”
The ALJ warned FOL as follows:
Petitioner (FOL) is hereby made aware that proceeding at this time is at its own risk…If for whatever reason this Order is reversed, Petitioner would be required to return the subject property to its original condition.”
Days after the ALJ opinion, the County issued a building permit for “residential use only” as a “single family dwelling.”
A few weeks after issuance of the permit, neighbors were alerted to the existence of the restrictive covenant, which barred ANY construction in front of the house. They immediately notified FOL and Rabbi Rivkin. At that time, the structure was simply a hole in the ground. Actual construction had not yet begun. (Photo and Exhibits in CBA case.)
FOL ignored the warning. Knowing the structure in front of the property violated the restrictive covenant, knowing its Chabad House or community hospitality center violated County zoning laws, and knowing its representation of the building as solely a “residence” was untrue, FOL proceeded to build.
As construction continued, Mrs. Zoll confronted Rabbi Rivkin with his dishonesty. He replied, “I was as honest as I could be to get my permit.”
The neighbors appealed the ALJ’s decision but, by the time the matter came before the County Board of Appeals, more than a year later, the building was complete. On September 5, 2017, the CBA issued its Opinion, officially declaring the structure a “community center,” not a “residence,” and finding the “residential” permit itself to be “dishonest.” FOL was illegally “operating a community center without having obtained the necessary approvals or complying with the necessary regulations, including the Residential Transition Area requirements.”
The CBA went further, finding: “It is probably the case that no one in officialdom actually believed those new plans, which called for a structure virtually identical to the rejected parsonage, were for a mere residential addition designed to help Rabbi Rivkin’s burgeoning family. And while it is reasonable to believe that few in the county government believed the Lubavitch claim, no one in the county government felt empowered to take steps to block construction. It was a construction permit strategy relying upon a county administration that viewed itself as hamstrung and powerless to acknowledge out loud what everyone believed to be the case.” (CBA Opinion, p.13)
“This was the construction of a huge institutional building in a residential neighborhood with a dishonestly procured permit, occasioned by official frustration in the face of what everyone must have known to be the case, and that has now resulted in measureable diminution of property values.” (CBA Opinion, p.14)
“Sadly, Lubavitch has achieved its goals by manipulating both the administrative system as well as everyone’s natural inclination to defer to religious organizations.” (CBA Opinion, p.16)
FOL did not appeal the decision of the Board of Appeals.
In the most recent decision ordering demolition of the building (10/31/18), Judge Cox applied the doctrine of “unclean hands,” declining to provide relief for FOL because of its “fraudulent, illegal, or inequitable conduct.”
FOL has not appealed the decision.
Now, with court-ordered demolition weeks away and legal options dwindling, FOL plays the “DISCRIMINATION” card. In a video disseminated to many thousands, world-wide, FOL misrepresents or omits key facts of the zoning and covenant cases. Instead, to garner support, it tells a sensational, (and false), story of religious discrimination, comparing the destruction of the building to “Kristillnacht,” the beginning of the Holocaust, and portraying neighbors, especially Mrs. Zoll, and the judges involved as “anti-Semites.” “In a total act of prejudice, a Jewish hospitality center and synagogue, home to thousands of Jewish students at Towson University, [no longer a residence solely for the Rivkin family] is being demolished.”
The video is designed to energize Jewish organizations and followers around the world to “stand up” against oppression, contribute money for the “fight,” and confront lawmakers and local governments. It is an act of raw intimidation.
The scurrilous campaign appears to be having the desired effect as tens of thousands “like” the video and respond with hate-filled comments, many directed at the Zolls and Judge Souder, some calling them “Nazi Jew haters” and worse. With its video, FOL has essentially put a target on their backs and pressure to settle or reverse the ruling.
These tactics should not be condoned or implicitly supported by incomplete reporting of the facts. The press has the power and obligation to tell the real story, based on court opinions which speak for themselves and give the lie to false allegations being spread by FOL.
FOL seeks to wrap itself in a religious flag to justify breaking the law and calls those who oppose it religious bigots of the worst kind.
We ask the press to “stand up” and not allow the stench of this slander to hang in the air by failing to report accurately and completely the true facts of this case.