Court Declines to Apply RLUIPA But Upholds Religious Organization’s Use of Lot Zoned for Conference and Training Facilities

New York’s highest court declined to apply the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in finding a religious institution’s use of a lot zoned for “conference and training facilities” is permitted under local zoning. In Town of Mount Pleasant v. Legion of Christ, Inc., the Town appealed an Appellate Division decision, which held that the Legion’s use complied with the Town’s Code, and that the Town’s interpretation of the Code as prohibiting the Legion’s use violated RLUIPA. The Court of Appeals affirmed the holding that the Legion’s use is permitted by the Town’s Code, but did not reach the RLUIPA claim.

The Town argued that because the Legion offered a two-year course of study, rather than shorter-term courses as the lot’s previous owner had, the Legion’s use of the parcel is more accurately described as a college or seminary than as a conference and training center. The Court rejected the Town’s argument, reasoning that the Code does not specify a time limit for visitors to the lot. The Court noted that the Code prohibits “hotel or restaurant” use, but reasoned that this indicates that the town seeks to prohibit shorter-term, rather than longer-term guests.

Further, the Court held that it did not have to decide RLUIPA questions raised in the lower court because the action was instituted before RLUIPA was enacted and the issue of whether the Legion’s use was permissible under the Town’s Code did not require a determination under RLUIPA.