House or religious center? Debate over Chabad of Towson facility spans more than 4 years

The Baltimore Sun

Controversy over expansion of a residence in the Aigburth Manor community Towson — used in part as a religious center for students from Towson University and Goucher College — has been ongoing for more than four years. Here’s a review of some of the actions in the case:

August 2014: Aigburth names liaisons for Chabad project

Residents of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson form a committee to serve as liaison with the Chabad of Towson over its proposal to build an expansion for its 2,200-square foot, two-story residence, at 14 Aigburth Road. "We are moving ahead with the project. We are meeting with the builder and architect, " said Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, the Chabad rabbi since the facility, formerly called the Chabad Jewish Center at Towson and Goucher, opened in 2008. READ MORE

November 2016: Addition touches off a neighborhood skirmish

A new 6,614-square-foot, two-story addition at 14 Aigburth Road in Towson has raised contention among neighbors in the Aigburth Manor community. Neighbor Robin Zoll says it should have never been built; she and other neighbors say that while its owner contends the addition is being built for use as a residence, the building will be used as a religious center for some members of the Jewish community at Towson University and Goucher College. The property is home to Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, his wife, and five children, and is owned by Friends of Lubavich Inc. Rivkin and his attorney, Tim Kotroco, say the property is a residence.

This year, the two-story addition was approved by the county for use as a private residence only, according to county records. But neighbors say the property is also being used as a community center called Chabad of Towson and Goucher, an outreach organization that provides support for the college campuses' Jewish community. A Facebook page for Chabad of Towson and Goucher lists 14 Aigburth as its address. READ MORE

April 2017: Jewish group ordered to tear down addition

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has ordered that a 6,614-square-foot structure that a religious organization built in Towson must come down by March 1, 2018. The decision is the latest in a legal battle between Friends of Lubavitch Inc. and the organization's neighbors in the community of Aigburth Manor, who say that the structure the organization built at 14 Aigburth Road is out of character with the neighborhood, has decreased the value of surrounding property and led to parking problems.

On April 7, Baltimore County Circuit Court judge Susan Souder ruled that, in building the structure where it did at 14 Aigburth Road, Lubavitch officials violated a covenant in a 1950 deed requiring that the structure be at least 115 feet from the road, and that the organization must remove the structure from the property. The structure is less than 60 feet from the road, according to the lawsuit. Rivkin testified that he had no knowledge of the covenant restriction until July 2016, and by then Chabad had already begun construction of the structure, which he said cost $800,000. In her 21-page opinion, Souder stated the evidence was "undisputed" that the 1950 deed imposed the setback requirements on additions to the property. READ MORE

September 2017: Board: Chabad building is community center, not residence

Baltimore County Board of Appeals ruled that a 6,600-square-foot structure built by Friends of Lubavitch Inc. is a community center and not, as its owner claims, a residence. Chabad of Towson and Goucher is an outreach program sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch.

The Sept. 5 decision comes as another regarding the structure is pending: In April, a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ordered the structure be torn down by March 1, 2018, ruling that in building where they did, property owner Friends of Lubavitch violated a covenant in a 1950 deed requiring that the structure be at least 115 feet from the road. Friends of Lubavitch appealed the decision the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but a hearing date has not yet been set. READ MORE

March 2018: Motion filed to retain Chabad extension

Circuit Court judge ruled last year that an addition to a building associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch of Towson violated setback covenants and would have to be torn down by March 1, 2018. But on Feb. 28, one day before the deadline, Friends of Lubavitch Inc., the parent organization for Chabad of Towson and Goucher and owner of the property at 14 Aigburth Road, filed a motion in court to delay the tear-down order, court records show.

"Removal of the addition in advance of a final ruling on appeal is likely to cause unnecessary waste and expense, " Friends of Lubavitch's lawyer, Kimberly Manuelides, wrote in the request. The request asked the court to move the tear-down deadline to 90 days following the ruling on the appeal. Oral arguments for that appeal are scheduled for September. READ MORE

April 2018: Judge won't delay Chabad teardown order

Circuit Court Judge Susan Souder has denied a request by Friends of Lubavitch to extend a deadline for tearing down an addition to its building at 14 Aigburth Road. Friends of Lubavitch was ordered last April to tear down the addition because it violates setback covenants. The deadline was March 1 this year. But the group asked for a delay until the appeals process is complete, which will take until at least September. Souder denied that request.

Now, Friends of Lubavitch is appealing that denial to Maryland's appellate court, in a filing dated April 2. Kimberly Manuelides, a lawyer for Friends of Lubavitch, said in the request for the stay that having the structure demolished would cause "unnecessary waste and expense." Attached in court documents was a demolition quote for $98,575. READ MORE

May 2018: Receiver appointed to carry out Chabad teardown order

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge appointed a receiver to carry out a 2017 court order to demolish a building addition in Towson. Hasidic Jewish organization Friends of Lubavitch, which runs Jewish outreach program Chabad, was ordered to tear down the structure at 14 Aigburth Road last April because it violates setback covenants in the deed. Amid a series of appeals, Judge Susan Souder ordered the sherriff's office to seize the property and on May 15 appointed attorney Deborah Dopkin to carry out the order. Dopkin has the authority to hire contractors at Friends of Lubavitch's expense.

Friends of Lubavitch was ordered to tear down the building by March 1 this year after losing the setback covenant case. The group appealed the decision and asked the court to delay the deadline. The request for a delay was denied in the Circuit Court, and an appeal of that decision was denied in the Court of Special Appeals. Friends of Lubavitch recently asked the appeals court to reconsider. READ MORE

September 2018: Raze Towson Chabad building – or move it? Judge will decide

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge heard testimony Sept. 5 on two proposals for what to do about the Chabad of Towson University and Goucher College, a structure in Towson's residential Aigburth Manor neighborhood that a court ruled is in violation of a setback covenant. Neighbors want Hasidic Jewish organization, Friends of Lubavitch, which runs the Jewish outreach program, Chabad, to raze the building. But the Jewish outreach group proposed moving it backward 62 feet instead. The structure sits less than 60 feet from the road, far closer than the required 115 feet. Setting it back 62 feet would then meet more than the required 115 setback covenant.

Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Cox will decide between the two. But in closing remarks, Cox expressed concerns about ruling either way in a case that has layered expensive appeals one after another. "It is clear as day to me that no matter what I rule, there will be an appeal, " Cox said. "You all are locked in this battle that I think, procedurally, is in a posture that doesn't serve either side well." READ MORE

November 2018: Chabad launches fundraising effort to save Towson outreach building, citing 'discrimination'

An off-campus Jewish outreach organization has launched an online fundraising effort accompanied by a video, alleging a legal ruling ordering its building to be torn down is discriminatory – something the plaintiffs in the case deny. Hasidic Jewish organization, Friends of Lubavitch, which runs the Jewish outreach program, Chabad, built the building addition in 2014 and has been locked in a legal battle with the community over zoning and land covenants ever since.

After a ruling to tear the structure down and a series of appeal decisions affirming that ruling, Chabad is taking the case public with a crowdfunding page on the website Charidy. READ MORE

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