Kol Ami's long-standing legal battle with Abington Township may finally be drawing to a close.
On Jan. 18, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Stengel heard oral arguments in a dispute that stems back to 1999, when the Reform congregation purchased an 11-acre site in Meadowbrook, hoping to make it its permanent home.
In 2001, following a community backlash, the township refused to issue a zoning variance to Kol Ami, essentially forbidding the congregation from operating a synagogue on the site. The ruling came after residents had expressed concern over traffic volume and the presence of a large parking lot in a residential area.
The same year, the congregation – which has since abandoned plans for the site, and is currently developing a structure in Cheltenham Township – sued Abington Township, alleging that congregants' rights to religious expression under both the federal and state constitutions had been violated.
After selling the Meadowbrook property for a price in the millions, the congregation received approval last year from Cheltenham Township to move to the current site of the Wordsworth Academy in Elkins Park. Kol Ami, which has been holding Shabbat services at Gratz College, is expected to complete the move before the High Holy Days.
But the synagogue has not dropped its lawsuit against Abington, and is seeking damages for the hardship incurred upon members. It remains unclear when Stengel will issue a ruling.
The previous judge handling the case, Clarence Newcomer, died in 2005.