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CONGREGATION KOL AMI v. ABINGTON TOWNSHIP

July 11, 2001

CONGREGATION KOL AMI AND RABBI ELLIOT HOLIN PLAINTIFFS,
V.
ABINGTON TOWNSHIP; BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF ABINGTON TOWNSHIP; THE ZONING HEARING BOARD OF ABINGTON TOWNSHIP AND LAWRENCE T. MATTEO, JR., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newcomer, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Currently before the Court is plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and defendants' response thereto.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Congregation Kol Ami and Rabbi Elliot Holin allege that the zoning laws of Abington Township, Pennsylvania violate the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions because they prohibit houses of worship from locating in residential districts, yet allow other institutions to settle in those districts.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Congregation Kol Ami ("Kol Ami") is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation which has operated as a religious institution in the Philadelphia area since 1994. A Reform Jewish Congregation, it has about 200 member-families, and its purpose is to conduct religious exercises and operate a Hebrew School two days per week. Plaintiff Elliot Holin is the Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami.

Defendant Abington Township (the "Township") is a First Class township *fn2 in Pennsylvania, and is empowered to act through its governing body, officials, employees and official bodies, and has the power to regulate and restrict the use of land and structures within its borders. Defendant Board of Commissioners (the "Board") is the duly elected executive body of the Township. Its members select the members of defendant the Zoning Hearing Board of Abington Township ("ZHB").

The ZHB is the body that hears and decides: 1) appeals concerning the zoning ordinance at issue today, the May 9, 1996 Revised Abington Township Zoning Ordinance (the "1996 Ordinance"); 2) special exceptions to the 1996 Ordinance; and 3) variances from the terms of the 1996 Ordinance.

Defendant Lawrence T. Matteo, Jr. is the Director of Code Enforcement for the Township.

In 1978, the Township enacted Ordinance No. 1469 (the "1978 Ordinance") which created a V-Residence Zoning District. The V-Residence district permitted the following uses by right: single family detached dwellings, tilling of soil, township administrative buildings, public libraries, parks, and play or recreational areas. Religious institutions were permitted by special exception of the ZHB.

Then, in 1990, the Township amended the 1978 Ordinance with Ordinance No. 1676 (the "1990 Ordinance"). The 1990 Ordinance eliminated all uses by right in a V-Residence district, except for single family detached dwellings and accessories for those dwellings. It further eliminated all uses previously allowable by special exception including religious ones.

The May 9, 1996 Ordinance changed the designation of the Township's low density residential district from V-Residence to R-1 Residential. The 1996 Ordinance does not specifically allow religious institutions from locating in any of its four residential districts, R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4. The R-1 district permits the following uses by right: agriculture, livestock, single family detached dwelling, and conservation and recreation preserve. It also permits the following uses by special exception: kennel, riding academy, municipal complex, outdoor recreation, emergency services and utility facility.

Article IV of the 1996 Ordinance further defines the uses permitted by special exception in an R-1 district. For example, section 706(E)(8) states that a municipal complex includes such uses as a municipal administration building, police barracks, library, or road maintenance facility. Additionally, section 706(G)(6) defines outdoor recreation as "[p]ublic or private miniature golf courses, swimming pools, ball courts, tennis courts, ball fields, trails, and similar uses . . . [o]utdoor recreation shall [also] include any accessory use, such as snack bars, pro shops, club houses, county clubs" or other similar uses. Further, section 706(J)(3) states that term "utility facility" includes public transportation structures such as train stations and bus shelters.

The 1996 Ordinance was enacted to further the goals of the Township's Comprehensive Plan, first enacted in 1977. The purpose of the Comprehensive Plan is to serve as a "guide to orderly Township development in promoting health, safety, welfare and convenience of the people within it. It organizes and coordinates the relationships between land use patterns. It charts ...


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