Here is a synopsis of a current issue brewing in West Northbrook. Property purchased in unincorporated Northbrook was annexed with R-2 zoning for the purpose of building one or two homes. Once annexed, the owner donated the property to Darchei Noam of Glenbrook to build a synagogue. Is anything wrong here? Is this different from other religious facilities in Northbrook?
The difference is that this is the first religious facility to be built using the Northbrook zoning code that allows religious facility construction on R-1 or R-2 lots without public hearings or input from neighbors. All other religious facilities in Northbrook are built on lots designated as institutional building or restricted industrial, allowing input from residents.
The code is based on the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” which was passed by Congress to protect religious organizations from zoning ordinances that target them for different treatment or that place a “substantial burden” on a person or organization’s ability to worship. The intent of the law is to prevent municipalities from discriminating against religious organizations. Northbrook’s implementation of the law, which differs from surrounding suburbs, potentially adversely affects any Northbrook resident living in the vicinity of R-1 or R-2 lots.
Darchei Noam’s plans demonstrate the potential abuse of the law. The law intends for an appropriately-sized facility to be built with little impact to surrounding neighbors. The spirit of the law is not to introduce, as Darchei Noam plans, a facility with a large auditorium capacity, a parking lot with obtrusive lights and drainage issues into the heart of a residential area that already floods regularly and severely. The spirit of the law is not to ignore the vast majority of neighbors’ concerns. Will our village protect us (and you) from these issues?
A provision of the zoning code does state, ”particular attention should be paid to the impacts of these (religious) uses on surrounding residential uses.” Without a formal process to provide the neighborhood’s input, we are completely dependent on the Village to enforce the zoning code to protect residential uses.
Allowing a religious facility on a residential lot is one aspect of the law; protecting the rights of residents is another. Time will tell how these conflicting interests are resolved. Perhaps our administration needs to alter the zoning code to prevent future controversies. If not, you too may find a surprise in your backyard.
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