Atlantic Beach village has agreed to pay the Chabad of the Beaches $400,000 over four years to settle a 2022 federal lawsuit.
The Chabad of the Beaches, a Long Beach-based religious organization that also has members in Atlantic Beach and Lido Beach, bought the property at 2025 Park St. in Atlantic Beach, near Village Hall, in November 2021 for $950,000, planning to build a community center for Jewish programming, education and a place of worship.
Only weeks later, the village announced plans to take over the property through eminent domain, a legal procedure in which a government takes over private property and converts it to public use after compensating the owner.
At a village board meeting on Nov. 13, James Miskiewicz, an attorney with the firm Greenberg Traurig, who represents the village, gave his legal recommendation to trustees, and others in attendance, on accepting the settlement terms to resolve the Chabad’s lawsuit.
In addition to the payments, the village would also drop the eminent domain proceeding now pending in State Supreme Court, and refrain from taking action that would interfere with the Chabad’s ownership and use of 2025 Park St.
“As attorneys for the village, it is our recommendation that the settlement be approved,” Miskiewicz said.
The resolution was unanimously approved in a 4-0 vote. Trustee Patricia Beaumont did not attend.
The village wanted to build its own community center on the property, which would have included a recreational facility and village lifeguard operations.
Both parties were in court in July 2022, when the Chabad sued the village, seeking to prevent its acquisition of the property. A temporary restraining order was issued that prevented the village from proceeding with its eminent domain claim.
Representing Rabbi Eli Goodman, leader of the Chabad, was Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute. As of press time, Dys did not comment.
Goodman told the Herald in July 2022 that antisemitism was a factor in the village’s attempt to take over the property. But Mayor George Pappas dismissed the claim in a letter posted on the village’s website the following month.
U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert issued a preliminary injunction against the village’s claim of eminent domain in September 2022.
The only house of worship in Atlantic Beach is a synagogue — the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach — and its board president, Jonathan Heller, said that when Goodman began accusing the village of discrimination, it “struck a chord” — in this case, one of disagreement.
“We’re the one synagogue in the village,” Heller said. “We do not believe there’s any discrimination or antisemitism that has occurred here. This was really a commercial dispute, and we have a pretty sharp guy,” Heller added of Goodman, “who turned it into a way to extract some value for himself.”
During an open discussion between the village board and village residents at Monday’s meeting, many voiced their views on how the matter should be handled.
Former Mayor Stephen Mahler was critical of the village’s attempt to take over the property, and the legal fees the village paid Greenberg Traurig — a total of nearly $320,000.
“You paid for a worthless lawsuit,” Mahler told the board, “that never should have happened for a negligent mayor and board who did this.”
Steve Watkins, of Atlantic Beach, was left irritated and surprised when the board voted on the resolution on Monday night instead of doing it on a different date. “I think this board should not have voted for this right now, and given us a choice,” Watkins said.
Pappas did not speak to the Herald after the meeting, and as of press time had not responded to a request for comment.
Chabad of the Beaches will be required to apply for a special permit from the village Zoning Board of Appeals to build a community center for religious services on the property.
Anita Guyer, of Atlantic Beach, asked whether, if the zoning board were to deny the permit, the Chabad could once again accuse the village of antisemitism.
“We can’t speak on their behalf,” Pappas said.
Have an opinion on the village’s settlement with the Chabad of the Beaches? Send a letter to email@example.com.