LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The owner of the Rosewell mansion in eastern Jefferson County has sued Louisville Metro government, claiming he was improperly denied permission to operate a Jewish religious center.
Chabad of Prospect filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Jefferson Circuit Court, a month after a city zoning board denied a permit for a religious building in the residential neighborhood near the Ohio River. The panel concluded the plan failed to meet parking and other requirements.
The suit accuses the Board of Zoning Adjustment of making an “arbitrary and capricious” decision that omitted some facts and didn’t follow a federal law meant to protect religious institutions from “discriminatory and unduly burdensome land use regulations.”
The lawsuit is asking for a judge to overrule the city agency’s denial and approve the permit.
Chabad of Prospect was the lone bidder for the property on Transylvania Avenue at a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet auction in 2017. The state sold Rosewell and two other sites it bought under historic preservation commitments for the Ohio River Bridges Project.
Rabbi Boruch Susman, director of Chabad of Prospect, proposed using the mansion as a Chabad house, a place where he and his wife would host services, activities and programs for Jews, and also have a day camp, a Sunday Bible school and Friday Sabbath services twice a month.
“We’re open to everyone. We don’t identify labels. There’s no pay-to-pray,” Susman said in an interview Thursday. “There’s no membership. It’s really a place where every Jewish person can call home.”
The property’s zoning classification allowed religious buildings when Susman began made inquiries about the property in 2016 and 2017, including in March 2017, when he contacted the city’s planning office, according to the lawsuit.
But between then and October 2017, when Susman successfully bought Rosewell at the state auction for $400,001, the lawsuit says Metro government amended its land use rules for religious buildings in the zoning district, known as R-4.
After that, Susman needed a conditional use permit. He applied for the permit, but on September 23, the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment denied the request by a 3-1 vote. One member abstained; another was absent.
The board determined that the proposal didn’t qualify for the permit, in part because the property didn’t meet access and parking standards for the new use.
Board minutes filed with the lawsuit show that 22 people showed up at the public hearing to oppose Susman’s request. Jon Baker, an attorney representing neighbors and other opponents, told the zoning board that Chabad of Prospect had been illegally operating for more than a year and its intended use didn’t follow land-use rules.
Baker also argued that Transylvania Avenue is too narrow to support increased traffic, showing pictures demonstrating that the road isn’t wide enough to handle two cars trying to pass each other. His presentation included photos showing the Rosewell property filled with cars and other pictures of ruts in nearby yards.
The lawsuit claims the zoning board ignored “substantial evidence” compiled by city planners, including that the Metropolitan Sewer District and local transportation officials, had reviewed and approved the proposal.
It also alleges that the zoning board, which is appointed by Louisville’s mayor, allowed evidence at the public hearing that hadn’t been previously made public.