Court Rules Against Legion of Christ Seminary



(Original publication: August 4, 2005)


MOUNT PLEASANT — A conservative Catholic organization’s operations at a former IBM facility in Mount Pleasant violate the town zoning code, a state appeals panel ruled in a decision this week.

Though the Legion of Christ described its operation as a training center and similar to the property’s use by IBM, the Appellate Division in Brooklyn ruled on Monday that the organization was running a private college on the 97-acre site off Columbus Avenue.

The court ruling deals with a current operation by the Legion of Christ and not Westchester University, a liberal arts college for 3,000 students that the organization has proposed for an adjacent 168-acre parcel that is now before town planners.

The ruling was a victory for Mount Pleasant officials, following a defeat in state Supreme Court in December 2003.

“They are operating a seminary on the site, with about 80 seminarians living there,” Mount Pleasant Supervisor Robert Meehan said. “The town learned of the decision yesterday.”

Reached for comment yesterday, Stuart Shamberg, an attorney with Shamberg, Marwell, Hocherman, Davis & Hollis in Mount Kisco, which is representing the Legion of Christ, said, “I’m sure there will be an appeal.”

In its ruling, the Appellate Division said the zoning code did not violate the federal Religious Land Use and Institutional Act of 2000, as the Legion of Christ had contended.

The land affected by the court ruling is zoned as an office corporate education district, Meehan said, to be used principally as office, conference and training facilities. The Westchester University site has a different zone.

Meehan said the town would need to carefully review a special permit request from the Legion of Christ to operate a seminary.

“The real use of that property should be what IBM had it as — a conference center. I’m not sure this would qualify for a special permit,” Meehan said. IBM sold the property in 1996.

Mount Pleasant and the Legion of Christ have battled over the granting of tax exemption for religious use for the site.

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