U.S. News

Port Jervis, NY settles U.S. lawsuit over worship zoning law

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The city of Port Jervis, New York agreed to repeal a downtown ban on places of worship to settle a U.S. government lawsuit claiming that it discriminated against a church that had contracted to buy property near the site of a planned brewpub.

A five-year consent decree signed last week resolves claims that Port Jervis violated the religious rights of the Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church by adopting Local Law No. 7 of 2015 last December.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the law forced the rescission of an August 2015 contract for the church to buy property near where city officials, including Mayor Kelly Decker, hoped a microbrewery or gastropub could be opened.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law prohibits liquor licenses for locations within 200 feet of schools, churches, synagogues and other places of worship.

Under the consent decree, Port Jervis also agreed not to enact zoning laws that substantially curb the use of property for worship, unless it has a compelling interest.

The decree resolves claims that Port Jervis violated with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. A copy was filed with the federal court in White Plains, New York.

Decker’s office did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment.

William Onofry, the church’s lawyer, said the church has closed on property in a residential zone in Port Jervis, about two miles (3.2 km) west of where it had planned to move.

“The church is happy to finally be a member of the Port Jervis community,” he said. “There was an easier way to get to this point.”

Port Jervis is about 70 miles northwest of New York City.

The case is U.S. v. City of Port Jervis, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-09026.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby