Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New shift in Hasidic-village construction battle 

Hasidic Jews who own nearly half the land in this village will take their fight to build another village like Kiryas Joel from the courts to the Planning Board, setting the stage for a protracted war with village development officials.

"The choices were appeal or try to proceed with a site-plan application and see what kind of reception that gets," said Michael Sussman, lawyer for the eight plaintiffs, members of a Satmar dissident group opposed to the leadership in Kiryas Joel. "It's obvious that what we're going to do is the latter."

The shift in strategy comes three months after a decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon to dismiss the developers' lawsuit, in which they asked to nullify the creation of the Village of South Blooming Grove.

The plaintiffs — who bought the property for more than $25 million — claimed the village was created in 2006 to block further development of Hasidic communities in southern Orange County, violating their constitutional rights and the Fair Housing Act.

The suit was one of four in state and federal courts related to development of the parcels, including those making up the former summer bungalow resort known as Lake Anne.

According to court papers in the decision, the plaintiffs initially argued that the planning policies of the town and village discriminated against them. The plaintiffs later changed that claim to focus on discriminatory statements made by residents and officials, during and after the incorporation of the village.

McMahon preferred that plaintiffs demonstrate the discrimination rather than rely on statements that implied it.

"It may well be that prejudices harbored by the people of the Town of Blooming Grove led them to carve out a separately incorporated village in the area where plaintiffs owned the land, so they could halt a particular form of development. But that does not give rise to a claim against the village that was ultimately created," she said in her ruling.

Sussman said his clients would not appeal the case, as McMahon's judicial leaning would likely be shared by judges at the appellate level.

The dismissal does not affect the other cases related to development of the property, lawyers in those cases said.

"You've got to keep litigating until it becomes obvious that the reason for the multiple denials of the serial applications is discrimination," said Jim Sweeney, a lawyer for a faction of the developers involved with building a yeshiva at Lake Anne. "At some point, somebody's got to reach that conclusion."


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