Nuns claim zoning decision 'targets' religious orders

Tue, Feb 8, 2011, 00:00

THE SISTERS of Charity have claimed a decision by Dublin City Council to impose more restrictive conditions on development of certain lands in the new development plan for Dublin appears to be “targeted” at lands owned by religious institutions.

The order wants to see where that decision originated, its lawyer said. It claims the lands being zoned Z15, a designation which it claims treats privately owned land as resource land to be used for the community, are “almost exclusively owned by religious institutions”. There are numerous examples of lands owned by other institutions not subject to Z15 zoning, it claims.

It claims the council, in sanctioning the zoning under the new Dublin City Development plan 2011-2017, is effectively diverting private property into public ownership and “sterilising” its lands, without compensation.

The Z15 zoning requires a greater proportion of open space and social affordable housing than applies in any other zoning under the development plan, it claims.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly yesterday granted an application by Brian Murray, for the Sisters of Charity, to fast-track their action against the council over the Z15 zoning.

All of the order’s 108 acres of land in 18 separate parcels have been zoned Z15 in the new plan, imposing more restrictions on development than included in the previous plan. A similar challenge to the Z15 zoning has been initiated by RTÉ over lands at its Montrose complex at Donnybrook.

The order claims the decision breaches its property rights and has serious implications for its ability to fund its religious mission and its work. The order said it sometimes borrows money from financial institutions to support its work, and its capacity to do this is affected by the value of its properties.

Mr Murray said it appeared the more restrictive zoning was applied disproportionately, as it was not applied to other lands privately owned. His side wanted to see where the decision came from.

James Connolly, for the council, had sought an adjournment of the application to transfer the case and said he was awaiting instructions in the context of a meeting yesterday evening.

Mr Justice Kelly refused the adjournment and agreed to transfer the judicial review to the court, which fast-tracks the hearing of commercial disputes.

The High Court last month granted leave to the order and RTÉ to bring separate judicial review proceedings against the council over the zoning changes.

The Z15 designation means future uses such as housing development are not open for planning consideration, which has implications for the ability of the Sisters of Charity and RTÉ to sell off land.

The order claims the development plan is substantively illegal as it applies a restrictive zoning to an arbitrary selection of lands, including St Vincent’s Private Hospital, St Mary’s day-care centre in Donnybrook, the hospice at Harold’s Cross and school sites in the north and south city.

The Sisters of Charity want orders quashing adoption of the zoning on their lands and a stay on operation of the section of the plan affecting their property. They claim damages for alleged breaches of private property and religious freedom rights under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.