Friday, July 09, 2010

Court rules against village charging Hasidic developer for attorney fees 

A state Supreme Court justice has declared it illegal for the village to charge a Hasidic group attorney fees for legal advice on the group's request to open a yeshiva at the old Lake Anne resort.

The decision by Judge Lewis Lubell is a setback for the village, which has been locked in fierce battles with Hasidic developers, who own the majority of undeveloped land — more than 800 acres — in the village. At least three lawsuits and one counter-lawsuit have been filed by Hasidic Jews and the village in the three years since the village was incorporated.

The most recently filed lawsuit argues that the incorporation of the village itself was an attempt to prevent the expansion of Hasidic communities in southern Orange County. That case has been moved to federal court and is pending.

The decision on legal fees involves the application of Sheri Torah, a Hasidic religious school that wants to turn the rundown clubhouse in Lake Anne into a religious school for boys.

Jim Sweeney, attorney for the school, said that the village charged his client $13,000 for legal advice provided by village special counsel Dennis Lynch of Nyack, and then asked for another $7,500 in legal fees to continue with the application. Lubell judged the village's fee policy to be too open-ended and "potentially unlimited" in the amount that could be charged. He noted that the costs for legal advice by the village "do not represent necessary expenditures, but rather convenience to the board for what in the end is its own decision-making responsibility."

The justice, however, allowed the village to continue with a counter-lawsuit that argues the clubhouse is on improperly subdivided land.

A Kings County Court — upholding the decision of a Brooklyn-based rabbinical court — allowed 50 acres of the Lake Anne property to be subdivided as part of a settlement among feuding Hasidic investors.

Lynch said the subdivision was illegal as it skirted the village's planning authority. "This is an end run around the environmental review process," he said.


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