Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Boteach Reverses on Tax Exemption

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Boteach Reverses on Tax Exemption

Article excerpt

ENGLEWOOD -- Republican congressional candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said he no longer wants a religious-based property tax exemption on his 1.6-acre estate in Englewood, where he has held faith-based dinners, services and functions for years.

But he still wants the city to change the zoning of his property to recognize that he operates a house of worship there.

"We have a proper synagogue, and it should be properly zoned," he said. "We have a right to be acknowledged."

The rabbi's reversal on his tax status comes as he campaigns to represent the 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. He is opposed by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Paterson Democrat.

For several months, Boteach has sought to turn a guest cottage on his East Palisade Avenue property into a synagogue with living quarters above it. His main house, which includes an indoor swimming pool, would become a parsonage.

He is seeking variances for parking requirements and because the proposed synagogue building is closer to the property line than city zoning allows.

The plan was to get the variances and then transfer his entire property to This World: The Jewish Values Network, a private, charitable foundation he runs out of his home and which has an office in Los Angeles. This World then would have sought a property- tax exemption from the city.

Boteach paid $63,393 in property taxes last year on a $2.64 million assessment. He said his annual property tax bill may be unaffordable on the $174,000-a-year salary paid to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and he may have to sell his Englewood home if elected.

While he is running for office, Boteach said he does not want to appear as if he is trying to avoid paying taxes. He said the variance would not change his tax status and that he would not seek an exemption.

But a land-use expert said that decision may not be his to make. Howard D. Cohen, an attorney with Parker McCay in Lawrenceville, said property generally qualifies for tax-exempt status under state law if it is devoted exclusively to religious worship or a parsonage for a house of worship.

Zoning variances, such as the ones Boteach is requesting, would allow him to request an exemption from the city tax assessor or allow the city to change the status during its next assessment, Cohen said.

If the assessor declined to change the status, the rabbi could appeal to the Bergen County Board of Taxation, Cohen said.

Boteach said he could have sought tax-exempt status years ago but didn't want to expend the time or money. That changed when he learned that his next-door neighbor, the Libyan Mission to the United Nations, pays no taxes on its property. He said he was outraged that a "terrorist" like the late Moammar Gadhafi had been getting a free pass in Englewood. …

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