New York town's use of eminent domain to seize land from Jewish Chabad faces legal challenge

The village did not purchase the properties when they remained vacant for years, only moving after the Chabad purchased them

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

A New York town has begun the process of using eminent domain to seize two parcels of land recently acquired by a Jewish community organization, in a move that faces a legal challenge from a religious freedom nonprofit.

The Village of Atlantic Beach in Long Beach, New York, is eyeing 2025 Park Street, a vacant building that once housed a Capital One bank, and 2035 Park Street, another vacant lot, after Chabad of the Beaches bought 2025 Park from Emunah 2025 Park Street Holdings last November for $950,000. M.A. Salazar Inc., a real estate company, owns 2035 Park. The properties have remained vacant for years. 

"We were shocked when we received word that Atlantic Beach wanted to take our property," Rabbi Eli Goodman, the Chabad's leader, told Fox News Digital in a statement on Monday. "The property had been vacant for years and for sale for a long time. But only after we purchased it, the Village announced they were going to take it from us."

The village is going to court on July 14 to acquire the two properties. According to its petition, the village plans to build a community center and a recreational facility, which would house beach lifeguard operations, at 2025 Park, and a community park at 2035 Park. The two properties are adjacent to an existing village recreation center that includes tennis and pickleball courts, along with a basketball court. The Chabad, meanwhile, intends to build a community center for all residents, not just the Jewish community, Goodman said.

BOSTON-AREA SCHOOL BOARD APPROVES CHURCH'S PRIVATE SCHOOL AFTER ACCUSATION OF ‘RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION’

2025 Park Street, a vacant lot that the Village of Atlantic Beach is aiming to seize from Chabad of the Beaches

2025 Park Street, a vacant lot that the Village of Atlantic Beach is aiming to seize from Chabad of the Beaches (Google Maps)

"They have other places for a lifeguard command center; where are we going to go to provide our religious services in Atlantic Beach now?" Goodman asked.

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing the Chabad, told Fox News Digital that the eminent domain push amounts to religious discrimination and threatened to sue the village if it continues with the effort.

"The government must have a very compelling reason to seize a religious organization’s property," Dys said in a statement Monday. "Taking a religious organization’s property to use it as the operations center for lifeguards is not a compelling reason."

2035 Park Street, a vacant lot that the Village of Atlantic Beach is aiming to seize from M.A. Salazar Inc.

2035 Park Street, a vacant lot that the Village of Atlantic Beach is aiming to seize from M.A. Salazar Inc. (Google Maps)

"If the Village persists and tries to take the property, we are prepared to represent the Chabad of the Beaches asserting defenses under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)," he added. In a separate statement, he said flatly, "It's discrimination, religious discrimination."

The village did not respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment by press time. 

FLORIDA CITY PAYING TO RESTORE CHURCH'S PUBLIC POOK IS OK UNDER ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FIRM

Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas referred questions from the Long Island Herald to external counsel Joshua Rikon, a partner at the Manhattan-based firm Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Levi. The law firm did not respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment by press time.

Chabad of the Beaches office

Chabad of the Beaches office (Google Maps)

M.A. Salazar, the real estate firm, has owned the 2035 Park Street property since 1938, owner Richard Libbey told the Long Island Herald. Libbey said the Village's reasons for acquiring the properties "are not 100 percent legitimate." He argued that there are other, better sites for a community center.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

Goodman told the Herald that the Chabad was "startled" by the court action. "It was not done in a friendly way, and there is more behind it than a land grab." The rabbi has previously claimed that he sensed antisemitism and discrimination in the eminent domain action. 

Jeremy Dys

Jeremy Dys (Jeremy Dys)

Atlantic Beach residents voiced their opposition to the village's move at a Jan. 10 public hearing. The public comment period ended on Jan. 24, and the village filed an eminent domain petition on June 14.