In 1996, IBM sold a 97-acre parcel of property, in the Town of Mount Pleasant, to the Legion of Christ, Inc., an order of the Roman Catholic Church. Before and after the sale, the Town objected to the property's use for religious purposes, claiming violations of applicable zoning regulations.
Although the local code permitted "conferences," "training," "continuing education," "classroom space," "teaching equipment," "offices for staff," "indoor and outdoor physical recreational facilities," and "housing and dining facilities"--town officials contended that the Legion's activities were more akin to a "college or seminary" than a "conference and training center." Our state's highest court disagreed.
In a strongly worded decision, which questioned the Town's motives for initiating the dispute, the New York State Court of Appeals noted as follows:
We give a broad interpretation to the term "[c]onference and training center" not only because the Town Code defines the term broadly, but also because a broad reading does not injure any interest of the Town that can legitimately be protected by zoning. The longer duration of the Legion's programs appears to be completely harmless from the Town's point of view. The Town does not claim that the Legion's use of the property presents any traffic, health, safety or similar problem that was not also presented by IBM's use. Of course, there is one difference that is important to the Town--the Legion, unlike IBM, is tax exempt. But keeping property in tax-paying hands is not a legitimate purpose of zoning.Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's....?
For a copy of the Court of Appeals's decision in Town of Mount Pleasant v. Legion of Christ, Inc., please click on the following link: