Hollywood leans on Jewish group to pay $8,000 in fines, clean up property

South Florida Sun-Sentinel/July 26, 2002
By John Holland

Hollywood -- An Orthodox Jewish sect that moved temporarily into Hollywood Hills last year has amassed more than $8,000 in unpaid fines, ignored calls from the city to clean up their property and may be subject to foreclosure, City Commissioner Sal Oliveri said.

The yearlong dispute between Oliveri and leaders of the Chabad Lubavitch escalated this week when Oliveri ordered city administrators to crack down on the temple for dozens of violations, including parking and noise.

He is particularly upset at what he calls preferential treatment given to the Chabad, which in September received a one-year permit to worship in the residential neighborhood of Hollywood Hills.

With the year almost up, Rabbi Joseph Korf also is posturing to improve his chances of staying in two homes the Chabad bought and converted into a temple. Two weeks ago, he and attorney Bernie Friedman began lobbying Mayor Mara Giulianti in hopes of winning an extension, Korf said Thursday.

If the city doesn't relent, the Chabad will go to court, Korf said.

"We aren't going to go quietly into the night and we may be left with no choice but to file a federal religious discrimination lawsuit," Korf said Thursday.

For more than a year, the Chabad and Hollywood Hills residents have been fighting over the Orthodox sect's plan to build a house of worship in the residential neighborhood. They've already bought two homes, and Korf said Thursday he plans on buying several more and "substantially" increasing his congregation of 60 members.

On Sept. 12, the City Commission debated until 6:30 a.m. before issuing a one-year "special exception," allowing the Chabad into the neighborhood with strict limits on parking and the size of the congregation. The vote gave the Chabad one year to find a more suitable home, but Korf said Thursday he won't move from the homes at 2215 and 2221 North 46th Ave. unless the city gives his temple financial help or other considerations.

"This is our home and we believe we have every legal right to stay," Korf said. "We're working with the city to find property in a less residential neighborhood, but it's got to be the right situation for us."

To Oliveri and his supporters, the issue is a question of zoning and protecting "the sanctity of single-family homes." The Chabad counters that they have a constitutional right to worship as they please, and say veiled racism and old-fashioned politics is behind the opposition.

But the Chabad hasn't always been up front about their intentions, neighbors said and city records show. After buying the first two homes, Korf told building officials that the homes would be residential when he sought remodeling permits, city officials said.

The Chabad also left the homes in disrepair before moving into them, and have been cited repeatedly since then for parking on the lawn, not cutting their grass and leaving piles of "junk" on the property, according to internal city memos.

The city has filed at least five liens on the property for fines totaling at least $8,100. The most recent lien -- $600 for repeatedly parking on the lawn -- was filed June 3.

Korf said Thursday that the Chabad has corrected all the problems and don't owe anything. He said he had never been informed about the liens and would fight them in court if needed.

"Everything's been corrected and the city doesn't have the right to just start issuing fines because they want to," Korf said.

On Wednesday, Oliveri met with city officials and ordered them to step up collection efforts to enforce zoning codes. He also said the city should look into foreclosing on the property if the fines aren't paid.

"I met with Cameron Benson (city manager) on Wednesday and told him that this is unacceptable and that it is his job to get things under control," Oliveri said. "There really is no excuse for this to be continuing."

Despite everything, Oliveri and several neighbors concede the Chabad has not created excess traffic or been a disruption to the neighborhood.

"I live two houses away and I haven't seen one problem or heard any noise at all," said neighbor Carlene Tiedemann. "I don't understand why people are so upset. With all of the problems going on in the world, why are we worried about a group of people who just want to pray in our neighborhood?"

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