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The Aleksander Shul, its owner and rabbi, are in mediation with the city of University Heights. 

The Aleksander Shul, Rabbi Shnior Zalman Denciger and the owner of the building, University Realty LLC filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 13 against the city of University Heights seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction so the property can be used as a shul.

A copy of the 29-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio Eastern Division was sent to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

"“We will not have any comment on any pending legislation," Mike Cook, communications and civic engagement coordinator for the city of University Heights, wrote the Cleveland Jewish News in an Oct. 14 email. "The city will speak through its legal filings and in open court.”

The lawsuit, filed by Lindsey E. Sacher of Tucker Ellis LLP in Cleveland, seeks a declaration the city’s land use ordinances are void, invalid and unconstitutional on the ground they violate the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Free Exercise Clause of the Ohio Constitution, Ohio Common Law and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a prior restraint on religious expression and exercise.

In addition, the lawsuit seeks preliminary and permanent orders “enjoining (the city) from applying their laws in a manner that violates the laws listed above.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, full costs, attorneys’ fees and other relief.

Aleksander Shul and the city have been embroiled in legal battles. The city sued the shul, its rabbi and owner June 7 seeking a temporary injunction and permanent restraining order blocking the shul from operating based on code violations and zoning violations. Previously, the city took the three entities to Shaker Heights Municipal Court over those violations.

In that action, the defendants pleaded no contest and were fined a total of $65,000 according to Shaker Heights Judge K.J. Montgomery and appealed Aug. 10 in the Ohio 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal lawsuit claims the fines in the criminal case totaled $940,000. 

Roman P. Storzer of Storzer & Associates P.C. of Washington, D.C., whose firm is also representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, explained why that amount was listed.

"Although I am not representing them in the criminal matter, my understanding is that the majority of the fines were suspended," he wrote he Cleveland Jewish News Oct. 14. "There was a $940,000 fine for count two (Municipal Code section 1250.02), of which $910,000 was suspended 'on condition that during 4 years active probation, defendant does not violate UHCO 1250.02.'”

Storzer said Oct. 14 he had no further comment on the lawsuit.

In an Oct. 13 release, Storzer said, "University Heights' ordinances are unconstitutional and contrary to federal and Ohio law. These ordinances deprive the Aleksander Shul and other religious communities of their fundamental right to religious expression and exercise."

Much of the federal lawsuit bears similarity to a countersuit filed by the shul, the rabbi and the owner Sept. 14 in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against the city and Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan. It departs in that it addresses the city's housing code.

The lawsuit said University Heights Codified Ordinances treat religious institutions on “less than equal terms with non-religious institutions.”

The lawsuit said University Heights Codified Ordinances treat religious institutions on “less than equal terms with non-religious institutions.”

Whereas other institutions are allowed by right within the city, religious institutions aren’t, the lawsuit states.

It challenges city zoning regulations, under University Heights Codified Ordinances that “unreasonably limit and totally exclude religious assemblies, institutions and structures from the city,” the 34-page complaint reads. “The provisions of Chapter 1274 are so restrictive that no applicant can meet them and therefore any prospective house of worship is both unreasonably limited and totally excluded from the city.”

That same chapter, according to the complaint, “grants the city unbridled discretion to grant or deny a (special use permit) for a house of worship.”

It deprives people of the ability to walk to a house of worship. The lawsuit states that no other site within University Heights provides a feasible alternative for worship.

In addition, it states the fact that the city shut down worship at three other Orthodox shuls: at 4464 Churchill Blvd, known as Kehillat Heikal Hakodesh; at the 2343 Miramar Blvd. home of Daniel Grand; and at 4136 University Parkway.

This is a developing story.

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