A court order to raze a Towson outreach center for Jewish students was placed on hold Thursday when a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge granted a request to defer demolition pending an appeal.
The decision by Judge Kathleen Cox puts a pause on an order that would have required Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish organization, to set aside money to start the demolition process. That order had been scheduled to take effect Thursday.
The decision is the latest legal step in a years-long battle between Chabad of Towson, which serves as a center for Jewish students attending Towson University and Goucher College, and its neighbors.
Last year Cox determined that a 4,000-square-foot addition that serves as the Chabad center should be removed for violating setback and zoning rules.
Rabbi Menachem Rivkin and his wife Sheina, who live in the house and run the Towson Chabad program, are asking the Court of Special Appeals to review part of that order — specifically Cox’s ruling that the operators can’t simply pick up and move the center back from the road to comply with a setback rule.
The Rivkins’ attorney, Brian Boyle, argued that the ruling against moving the center was a “close legal call” and that the higher court should have the opportunity to consider it.
Michael McCann, an attorney for plaintiffs that include neighbor Robin Zoll and the local neighborhood association, argued that Chabad has already appealed its case multiple times, each one denied. McCann pointed out that the original deadline to tear down the building, set down in an earlier ruling by Circuit Court Judge Susan Souder before her retirement, was March 2018.
He claimed Chabad was in “constructive contempt of court,” and told Cox: “If you grant the stay at this point, I think you’d be promoting this conduct.”
But Cox said tearing down the building would make the appeal moot, and the Court of Special Appeals would have no opportunity to review the decision.
The judge nevertheless required Chabad to post a bond of $125,000, the estimated cost of demolition.
“We were hoping to have some finality,” said Aigburth Manor Association vice president Paul Hartman, whose neighborhood organization is among the plaintiffs in the case. “We’re disappointed it keeps dragging out.”
Chabad is also suing Baltimore County and the Circuit Court in federal court, arguing the governmental bodies discriminated against it and created undue hardship in its efforts to build the addition. The Chabad lawyers say the county has violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits the creation of zoning and land-use laws that substantially burden churches and other religious institutions.