Evanston officials tout legal win against Chicago-based Jewish school

Attorneys William McKenna and Grant Farrar explain the city's victory in a legal battle against a Chicago school at a news conference Monday. They were joined by Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

Ciara McCarthy/The Daily Northwestern

Attorneys William McKenna and Grant Farrar explain the city's victory in a legal battle against a Chicago school at a news conference Monday. They were joined by Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

Ciara McCarthy, Assistant City Editor

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Following Evanston’s victory in a controversial and drawn-out lawsuit between the city and a Jewish elementary school, city officials held a news conference Monday at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to discuss the ruling.

The Chicago-based school, Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov-Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi, bought a parcel of land at 222 Hartrey Ave. in 2007. The plot on Hartrey Avenue, however, is designated for industrial use under the Evanston Zoning Ordinance. Thus, in order to use the property for a school, the space on Hartrey would have to be re-designated for commercial use. Joan Dachs attempted to change the land’s designation through several unsuccessful avenues, ultimately applying for a map amendment that would change the plot’s designation from industrial to commercial to allow the school to be built there.

The legal battle began when City Council denied Joan Dachs’s application. Joan Dachs filed the lawsuit in May 2009, seeking an injunction to overturn the council’s decision and alleging the council’s decision violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act because of religious discrimination.

Last week, Cook County Judge Mary Anne Mason sided with Evanston after an eight-day bench trial.

On Monday, city attorney Grant Farrar highlighted the city’s victory against “two of the biggest law firms in the world.”

The case was primarily a judicial review of the council’s decision to deny Joan Dachs the rezoning, attorney William McKenna said Monday. McKenna said the judge could have overruled city council’s decision if the judge could show “the action of the municipality was arbitrary and capricious.”

McKenna explained the council’s decision was based off various economic, safety and environmental concerns — and was not the result of religious discrimination.

“Each of those elected representatives of this community testified that their decision to vote against a zoning change for this religious school had absolutely nothing to do with religion,” McKenna said.

During the press conference, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) also addressed the controversy surrounding a comment she reportedly made about the school. The school’s former president alleged Rainey had told him, “Keep your Jewish school on California. You’ll get a zoning change over my dead body,” referring to the original school’s location at 6110 N California Ave., Chicago.

Rainey denied ever making the comment on Monday.

“I did not say that,” Rainey said. “I’m not even sure I knew where the school was at that time.”

Rainey emphasized the city amends the zoning ordinance only in rare circumstances.

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