Litchfield News

Chabad files federal appeal against borough (03-17-12)

Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach isn't giving up on the plan to build a synagogue and community center on West Street in Litchfield. BZ photo
Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County's long legal fight against the Borough of Litchfield's Historic District Commission got longer Thursday when the Jewish organization filed an appeal related to the commission's rejection of Chabad's synagogue plan.

Chabad appeal was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City. It appeals a federal court judge's dismissal last month of Chabad's discrimination lawsuit against the Historic District Commission.

The lawsuit was dismissed on Feb. 17 by Judge Janet C. Hall of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. Hall ruled that Chabad's lawsuit was baseless because it showed no evidence that the historic district commission acted discriminatorily when it denied the synagogue plan in 2007.

Chabad sought to turn a 2,656 square-foot Victorian it owns on West Street into a 21,011 square-foot synagogue and community center. The commission denied the plan because it said the expansion would've overwhelmed the historic district.

After denying the plan without prejudice, the commission invited Chabad and its leader, Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach, to submit a new plan that would be in keeping with the commission's regulations. That offer still stands.

In a statement issued Friday, the historic district commission's attorney, James Stedronsky of Litchfield, was critical of Chabad's latest action.

"A sincere apology to the Litchfield community would have been more fitting than an appeal," Stedronsky said.

The appeal was filed by Chabad's lawyers, Kenneth Slater of Hartford and Frederick Nelson of Orlano, Fla. The appeal also cites historic district commission members Wendy Kuhne, Glenn Hillman and Kathleen Crawford, saying they conspired against Chabad's plan.

The appeal means more legal expenses for the borough, which has already shelled out more than $10,000 to defend itself, Borough Warden Lee Losee said. The tally actually exceeded $200,000, Losee said, but insurance covered most of it.