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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Am I Reading This Right?
Or Was the Cart Placed Before the Horse?

Perhaps my reading comprehension is terrible. My commentators won't be the first to make such a comment.

My reading of this story is that a Chicago Orthodox Yeshiva/Bais Yaakov:
  • bought a building in an industrial area (date unknown) and applied for a special use permit (December 2007)
  • spent upwards of $2,000,000 on architectural design fees and insurance while holding the property
  • was turned down by the city in their request for a zoning variance, 8-1
  • is suing the city for estimated losses of two million (see above)
  • argues that the city of Evanston wrongfully focused on the loss of property tax
  • claims that the city failed to distinguish between a "religious institution" and a private school, claiming they are the former, rather than the latter, as attendance is " practically mandatory in the exercise of their religious faith," and like the nearby church, they too should be granted a zoning variance.
  • argues that city's action was arbitrary and unreasonable and violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and religion.

If my reading is correct, the commentary is clear. The eggs were counted before they hatched and/or the cart was put in front of the horse. I don't know much about obtaining properties and converting their use, but it seems to me that this was out of order. And to think that the school has expended $2 million. Oy!

Please tell me my reading comprehension is weak. Please tell me I should go back to middle school English. I do hope they win their case because otherwise I'm afraid that the ongoing battle will just result in throwing good money after bad, a scenario which I'm afraid isn't uncommon.


Ezzie said...

Yeah, I didn't get it. Moreover, they should be REALLY careful about the 6th thing (distinguish religious vs. private) - who knows how that precedent could come back to bite them.

Zach Kessin said...

Why is it that when it comes to Yeshivot and money things must be done in the dumbest way possible.

Spending $2 million to buy and convert a warehouse without checkign the zoning?

I suspect that this $2 million is gone for good, and a bunch more will be spent trying to get it back.

Why do I have the feeling sooner or later a bunch of community funds will be lost to some guy in Nigeria who claims to be the cousin of a dead banker or something

Lion of Zion said...


"who knows how that precedent could come back to bite them"

if there's one thing i've learned from having my son in a yeshivah this past year, it's that the school can't think more than 1 minute into the future

ProfK said...

I once recommended that schools would be the right place to teach our children about sound economic approaches and budgeting. After reading this I'm left to wonder who is going to teach the schools about economics first.

Anonymous said...

The 8-1 vote may not indicate anything, but it may indicate that the school's case was extremely weak.

I find this attitude endemic in the right wing frum community, that it's their "right" to do such and such and they are very surprised when others don't see things the same way. I'm not saying we have to cower before the authorities chas v'shalom, but living in American society involves some give and take. If the bais yaakov were involved in community functions (such as blood drives, food drives, whatever) involving the greater population, that would have gone a long way in terms of political support. But the right wing wants nothing to do with the goyim, except their political support.

If it's any consolation (it won't be), our local public school district had a similar situation in which they purchased a site and construction materials, in fact already won a bond referendum, but were turned down by the zoning board. The zoning board was heavily influenced by an industrialist who owned the site next door. The school district prevailed in court, but paid all sorts of cost overruns and legal fees; also the school, whose space was sorely needed, was delayed in completion for 2 years. A messy situation for all involved, including the taxpayers.

I could write a book, so stop me now.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like they may have very good grounds to fight the zoning decision. However, spending $2million on insurance and architects plans sounds crazy. You probably do need to have site plans to get a zoning variance or permit and therefore need to spend some money on architects, but what were they designing? The Taj Mahal?

Lion of Zion said...


"it's their "right" to do such and such and they are very surprised when others don't see things the same way."

oh please. it's not a matter of not seeing things the same way, but rather plain old hatred of yiddn.

Anonymous said...

Why do I have the feeling sooner or later a bunch of community funds will be lost to some guy in Nigeria who claims to be the cousin of a dead banker or somethingOf maybe sooner or later a bunch of community funds will be lost to some guy in the USA promising consistently good returns in good markets and bad.


Tom said...

What a load of nonsense. I work for a gov. agency and I deal with zoning issues all the time (I'm on the IT side, I support some of the systems that process zoning variances - the IT folk see everything). People are constantly spending money on properties, planning, and sometimes executing expensive improvements before obtaining proper permits or even checking zoning rules.

They do so because: a. Ignorance (you mean I have to get a permit? what's zoning?) or b. arrogance (I know people - don't need no stinkin' permit) or c. plain old stupidity (oh, don't worry, I'm sure I'll get a variance - 1st amendment, blah, blah, blah).

The yeshivish variant is usually a combination of 2 & 3 with a sprinkling of xenophobia.

Let me give those people a clue: Most government agency, including mine, don't give a damn about your religion. All that matters is that you follow procedure. If you want to do something that requires a variance, apply for the damn variance. Unless you want to build an asbestos plant, in a residential area, next to a day school, on top of a wellfield, in a wetland, they'll at least give you a fair hearing.

Politics can play a part and having an official in your corner will help grease the skids a bit, but most of the time it's fairly routine unless someone OUTSIDE of the gov. opposes your request. Then it's up to the politicians to make the call based on staff recommendations (if they're honest - money under the table if they aren't).


Ariella said...

They didn't attempt to sue the town, but there was a similar situation in Woodmere a few years ago. The girls' high school, Rennas Bais Yaakov had been renting space in the Young Israel of Hewlett but was planning to buy a building in Woodmere. The town opposed on the basis of traffic, parking, etc. I don't know how much money was tied up in this, but in the end, the school board just folded the school literally days before the school year was to begin. The girls attending that school had to scramble to find places in other area high schools. There is also rather a mess now involving the Shulamith school, which must be on the way to folding the high school with no entering ninth grade.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-I remember that post. I also remember responding in my own post with an absolute NO WAY!!! When it comes to learning about personal finance, I will HOMESCHOOL my children.

DAG said...


How about denying Federal/State funds for Yeshivas because they are religious institutions, not schools?

Anonymous said...

Tom's right on the money. As crazy as it sounds to you and me, many organizations, real estate developers small and large, and business owners jump into real estate deals with zero due diligence on zoning and building code issues.

As an architect, I can't begin to count the number of frum people who've contacted me on zoning or building code issues after their deal has been inked and money spent on aquiring a propoerty that may not be allow the use they require.

And, of course, they often don't like the answers I have to give them, which is where the ingnorance and arrogance/entitlement attitudes really rear their ugly heads ("who is the government to tell me what I can or can't do with my own property", etc., etc.).

Anonymous said...

hey orthonomics webmaster, we have a link to your blog on our site, do you think you could place a linkback onto ours? we are a baltimore jewish news website

conservative scifi said...

Sephardi Lady,

Have you seen the most recent issue of Money Magazine? It has an interesting article about religious families (one of them orthodox) trying to cope with the economy and their religious constraints.

SephardiLady said...

I have the articles thanks to another wonderful reader. I will post on it shortly.

Alexis said...

There was a worse flap in London a few years ago. The council denied planning permission for a warehouse to be converted into a school. The day after it was denied, the school began work and opened a few months later. The council sent an enforcement notice, but oh no, 200 students, it can't move now! The lawyers kept it open. I was furious--the school deserved to be forcibly closed. They were ordered to advertise it for sale but have not done so.

Anonymous said...

in bergen county a few years ago, one of our day schools, contracted to buy a plant nursery to move the yehisva to. they spent time and a good amount of money on plans etc and then backed out of the deal and lost a good amount of money. a few years later they went to buy another buidling that had been housing a different yeshiva, spent money on that ( planned to have two campuses to handle crowding- meaning double physcial plant costs, mainatenace etc. ) they backed out of that two, after wasting money. and now maybe ten years later, they are exactly where they started just poorer.

just seems there was poor planning and wasting of donor and tuition money.

Bob Miller said...

The way to get city officials to decide your way in this type of process is to play by their rules from the start, get all your ducks in a row, and line up support in advance. Trying to short-circuit the process, and then loudly accusing the officials of bad faith or bigotry or who-knows-what gets their backs up and also creates a bad atmosphere for future proposals from that Jewish institution or community.

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