Chabad of the Beaches “Takes” On the Village of Atlantic Beach

by: Allan Zhang
27 Sep 2022

A recent eminent domain case unfolding across the river involves the potential taking of property owned by Chabad of the Beaches (“Chabad”), a Jewish community group, to be used for religious purposes. Chabad was founded by the Rabbi Eli Goodman and his wife, Beila Goodman, to serve the Jewish population of Long Beach Barrier Island. Chabad owns the property at 2025 Park Street in the Village of Atlantic Beach (“Village”) in Nassau County, New York.

Chabad purchased the property in November 2021, with the goal of using the property to offer religious services, education and programming to the broader Jewish community. The property had been vacant and on the market for sale or lease for at least two years prior to Chabad’s purchase. During the time the property was for sale, the Village never attempted to acquire it by purchase from the prior owner or by eminent domain. It was only once it became known that Chabad intended to build a center for the Jewish community that the Village stated it would take the property by eminent domain.

Shortly after Chabad’s purchase, and less than a few weeks after Chabad used the property to celebrate Hannukah, the Village began its attempt to take the property by using the awesome power of eminent domain. While it is still unclear for what purpose the Village intends to utilize the property for, Chabad believes the Village intends to use it for a community center and lifeguard operations facility. On December 13, 2021, at a meeting of the Village’s Board of Trustees, the Board unanimously adopted a resolution to begin the process of seizing 2025 Park Street through eminent domain. On January 10, 2022, the Village held a public hearing to discuss the acquisition. Some residents questioned why the Chabad property had to be taken since there existed multiple other Village owned undeveloped properties that were suitable for the Village’s purposes. In February 2022, the Village Trustees voted to take the Chabad property through Eminent Domain. On June 14, 2022, the Village filed its petition for condemnation for the Chabad property in June 2022 in New York State Supreme Court, Nassau County. Despite the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law stating the requirement that “[w]herever practicable, … make [an] offer [of just compensation] prior to acquiring the property,” N.Y. Em. Dom. Proc. Law Sec. 303., Chabad argues no such offer was ever made by the Village.

In July 2022, Chabad, represented by counsel from the nonprofit Christian legal organization, First Liberty Institute, filed its complaint and motion for preliminary injunction with the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. It argued that the Village was discriminating against Chabad and the government must have a very compelling reason to seize a religious organization’s property and should only use eminent domain when absolutely necessary. Chabad raised arguments under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, violations of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, as well as a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. More details on the alleged discrimination can be found in First Liberty’s pleadings here.

The day after the initiation of Chabad’s complaint, United States District Court Judge Joanna Seybert issued a temporary restraining order staying the Village from proceeding with the taking. On September 6, 2022, Judge Seybert, issued a preliminary injunction against the Village’s claim of eminent domain. In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Seybert noted “Defendants’ decision to acquire the Property by eminent domain will burden Chabad’s religious exercise by curtailing its outreach mission to the Jewish community.”

Will Chabad be able to stave off the Village’s eminent domain attack? Stay tuned to see how this battle unfolds…