Church wins right to review use in industrial zone

Church converted warehouse within industrial area and held services. In 2002, Abundant Life Alliance Church of New York bought a condo warehouse unit located within the College Point II Urban Renewal Area in Queens to operate a church. At the time of purchase Abundant knew there were restrictions on the warehouse’s use: the urban renewal plan did not list churches as a permitted use, the deed contained a restrictive covenant that required Abundant to comply with the industrial development plan, and finally, the condo offering plan restricted use to M1-1 zoning. Nevertheless, Abundant converted the warehouse interior without the required permits and began holding religious services.

In January 2003, the Economic Development Corporation requested that College Point Plaza take action to block Abundant’s unpermitted use. Shortly thereafter, Abundant filed a land use review application with the Planning Department, seeking to amend the urban renewal plan, and a variance from the M1- 1 zoning regulations. Before the Planning Department responded, EDC sued Abundant to stop it from operating the church. Abundant countered that the EDC was violating the church’s constitutional right to free worship and assembly. In the meantime, the Planning Department rejected Abundant’s application, stating that an application to amend the urban renewal plan had to include the EDC as co-applicant.

Justice Peter J. Kelly dismissed EDC’s complaint and ordered the Planning Department to certify and process Abundant’s application in accordance with ULURP, concluding that EDC’s suit was premature. None of the City’s administrative agencies authorized to regulate land use had reviewed Abundant’s non-conforming use and Abundant’s application was still pending at the Planning Department. Justice Kelly ruled that EDC was required to treat Abundant differently from others in the urban renewal area. It should have been more flexible and made every effort to accommodate the religious use, and that a special use permit application with caseby- case review was the proper process to address religious uses. The court noted, however, that special accommodation for religious institutions did not mean that Abundant could undermine the land use review and decision making processes. Finally, the court ruled that EDC need not be a co-applicant on an application to amend the urban renewal plan.

EDC v. Abundant Life Alliance Church of New York, Index # 8151/2003, Dec. 21, 2005 (Queens Cty.Sup.Ct.) (Kelly, J.) (Attorneys: Michael A. Cardozo, Robin Green, for EDC; Patrick W. Jones, Adrian Zuckerman, for Abundant).

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