The owner of the Aleksander Shul was fined $65,000 and given four years probation in a Shaker Heights Municipal Court criminal case heard July 8 initiated by the city of University Heights over violations of the city’s building code. The owner also has to pay court costs.
The fines, which will go to the city of University Heights, were imposed by Judge K.J. Montgomery against University Realty USA LLC. It includes a clause that would allow the judge to impose a longer period of probation, up to five years, and to increase fines to up to $2.82 million if the owner fails to comply with the terms of probation.
The fines are due within 120 days. The city of University Heights and University Realty are due back in court Aug. 11 to review the compliance plan.
The city alleged University Realty violated city building code by engaging in construction without pulling required building permits and inspections, that it used the residence for purposes not permitted by the zoning code “including as a house of assembly,” and that in doing so, “created unauthorized parking facilities for off-street use without adequate ingress and egress.” The violations extend from Feb. 7, 2019, to Aug. 7, 2019.
In a separate civil lawsuit filed by the city of University Heights, the Aleksander Shul has agreed to use the house at the corner of Milton Road and University Parkway as a shul only on Shabbat until July 29, when a hearing has been scheduled at Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to consider a permanent restraining order requested by the city of University Heights.
“We’re obviously very happy to put this piece behind us, so we that can focus on the pending civil action, work with the city in order to have a shul comply and operate as they plan to,” Brian J. Green of Shapero & Green Attorneys at Law in Beachwood, who represents University Realty, told the Cleveland Jewish News July 8.
Green said Dale H. Markowitz of Thrasher Dinsmore & Dolan of Chardon, who is acting as co-counsel on the civil case for the shul, is a zoning specialist.
“He is working on some issues with the city, and so we’re hoping to reach some kind of resolution,” Green said.
The Aleksander Rebbe of Cleveland, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Danziger, sat at the right of Green during the sentencing.
Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan attended the hearing, sitting beside Stephanie B. Scalise, University Heights prosecutor, during the sentencing. He has said publicly the shul must close for use as of July 29 or the city will pursue a permanent restraining order in court that day.
“The city of University Heights takes its code enforcement, its housing code, its zoning code, very seriously,” Brennan told the CJN July 8. “We expect all homeowners, all property owners to follow the code. And today’s sentencing reflects what happens when for years you do not follow the city’s housing code, when it comes to a property owner using their home in a way that doesn’t comply with local ordinances. The significance and the seriousness of the fines and the sentencing here is a reflection of years of coming into compliance with the city’s housing code.”