Ohio city shuts down, fines synagogue for violating building, zoning codes

After ongoing dispute with city, owner of Aleksander Shul now faces $65,000 fine and four years probation for alleged code violations.

Dan Verbin ,

Ohio Statehouse
Ohio Statehouse

In June, members of the Aleksander Shul in University Heights, Ohio found themselves without a synagogue after 19 months of negotiations and legal battles with the city over zoning and building code ordinances did not result in an agreement.

Though the suburban Cleveland synagogue, also known as Aleksander Kehilla, has been in operation for over a decade, University Heights Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan told city council on June 21 that from then on the building would only be used as a residence, reported the Cleveland Jewish News.

However, a few days later the congregation’s lawyer said that the mayor’s statement was “not a foregone conclusion” as he seemed to be indicating during the meeting.

“I did watch the YouTube of his speech, and his indication that this property can never be used for a shul is just not in accordance with either their ordinances or federal law. So there’s a lot more to talk about in this case before we get to July 29, and we’ll talk to the city and see what we can work out,” Dale H. Markowitz of Thrasher Dinsmore & Dolan in Chardon told the Cleveland Jewish News.

In the latest development, the owner of the Aleksander Shul has been fined $65,000 and given four years probation by a municipal court. The ruling was the result of a criminal case that was brought forward by University Heights with regard to the synagogue’s alleged violations of city building codes, according to the Jewish News.

The fines must be paid within 120 days.

The city alleged that University Realty, the owner of the building, violated building codes by building without the the proper permits and inspections, and that it used the residence for purposes it was not zoned for, including “as a house of assembly” and that it “created unauthorized parking facilities for off-street use without adequate ingress and egress.”

“We’re obviously very happy to put this piece behind us, so we that can focus on the pending civil action, work with the city in order to have a shul comply and operate as they plan to,” said Brian J. Green of Shapero & Green Attorneys at Law in Beachwood, who are representing University Realty.

Brennan told the Jewish News after the hearing that “the city of University Heights takes its code enforcement, its housing code, its zoning code, very seriously.”

The case is one of several recent high profile disputes that have pitted cities against Orthodox Jewish communities who have been accused of violating municipal zoning or building laws.

In April, the attorney general of New Jersey announced that the state had filed a civil rights lawsuit against Jackson Township, NJ alleging that township officials violated anti-discrimination law by using zoning powers to deter Orthodox Jews from practicing their religion and from moving there.