Aventura - Sunny Isles

Sunny Isles Beach close to settling lawsuit with synagogue

The city of Sunny Isles Beach has reached a tentative agreement to end years of litigation with a synagogue claiming its religious freedom was violated when the city declared the building a historic landmark.

Terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed, but will have to be approved by city commissioners in a public vote before becoming final.

Temple B’Nai Zion, 200 178th St., filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Mayor Norman Edelcup in December 2010. The suit claimed the city violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, which prohibits cities from using zoning laws to prevent religious assembly.

In 2010, the City Commission designated B’Nai Zion a historic landmark because it was the site of a 2004 reunion of more than 200 Holocaust survivors.

Temple leaders didn’t want the designation because the synagogue would not be able to expand, thus violating their religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams dismissed the suit in May 2012 because it didn’t show how the historic designation prevented further development of the synagogue since they hadn’t applied for any variances.

But in August 2013, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision. Judge Williams would have presided over the trial set for December but an agreement was reached with a court-appointed mediator.

The City Commission discussed the settlement during a closed special meeting Thursday night. City Attorney Hans Ottinot said he was unable to disclose the terms of the settlement, which the federal court is expected to accept in a couple of weeks.

“Both parties worked together to come to an agreement,” Ottinot said.

Keith Silverstein, an attorney for the synagogue, confirmed a tentative agreement has been reached.

“It was a hard fought 10-hour session stretching over two days,” Silverstein said. “Both parties advocated zealously but recognized a compromise was in the interest of everyone involved.”