Join Our Telegram Channel


The New York state attorney general's office has warned the leaders of a Sullivan County town that recent changes to its zoning regulations they adopted last year for “places of worship” may be discriminatory because they appear to have been designed to block a large development project proposed by Hasidic Orthodox Jews, according to the letter which was obtained by FAA News.

The attorney general’s intervention in the controversy comes as the town of Forestburgh and the developers — companies and individuals with Hasidic Orthodox Jewish principals — have been battling in court. The owners purchased the property and its development rights four years ago from another developer who had received approvals from the town for a planned development district.

But a lawsuit filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court by the new developers alleges town officials sought to block them from developing the property by enacting burdensome zoning regulations that would require a minimum of five acres for places of worship and lot-line setbacks that are far larger than what other similar building uses are required to meet.

“Based on our review of Local Law 3 and its adoption, the office of the attorney general has concerns about the ordinance’s lawfulness,” Jill F. Faber, chief deputy attorney general for Regional Affairs, wrote in a letter sent last week to Forestburgh town Supervisor Dan Hogue, Jr. “Local Law 3 appears to violate state and federal law by discriminating against religious uses.”

The attorney general’s office asserts that town officials also may have violated the state Open Meetings Law during the process of enacting the new zoning standards last November, and that they have failed to articulate the need and public benefit behind the changes.

“Local Law 3 provides no justification or explanation for the onerous restrictions on religious uses,” Faber wrote. “The zoning code itself is simply silent on the question. Nor can a justification be divined from its legislative history. Local Law 3 was apparently developed in closed-door executive sessions with no public minutes. Without a record, it is impossible to know what the deciding factors were in imposing the prohibitive size requirements on religious uses in the new zoning code.”

The Jewish developers purchased the development project for more than $13 million. It had been approved to construct more than 2,000 residences in an area of more than three square miles.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, two limited liability companies and Rabbi Mordechai Halberstam and Rose Halberstam, allege the town’s zoning laws were amended specifically to block them from being able to develop the property — which has the project name “Lost Lake Resort” — because they intend to have Jewish residents live there. They said the town also raised their property assessment and increased development fees to dissuade them from developing the site.

“The defendants have done so, motivated by racial and religious animus — both on the part of town officials and of influential local residents — in order to prevent Hasidic Orthodox Jews from purchasing homes in the town,” their lawsuit states. “This targeted action was taken despite the fact that no place of worship currently exists in the town, according to its comprehensive plan, and notwithstanding the town’s knowledge that Orthodox Jewish synagogues, shuls, and other religious uses must be located within walking distance from homes in which Orthodox Jews reside so that they may walk to and from religious services on the Sabbath.”

To join a FAA News WhatsApp Group, click here.

To join the FAA News WhatsApp Status, click here.

No comments: