Friday, May 13, 2011

Airmont spent $450G on yeshiva student housing lawsuits 

Village officials spent $450,863 fending off a congregation's plans to build a school with housing and in a failed attempt to beat a civil rights lawsuit brought by federal prosecutors for the second time in the village's 20-year history.

After 10 years of legal battles and fees, Airmont officials agreed last week to a federal order forcing them to amend the community's zoning code to allow student housing.

If Airmont does not change its zoning code by Oct. 15, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the office will resurrect the lawsuit accusing the village of discrimination.

Airmont Mayor Dennis Kay and former Trustee Joseph Meyers, now a Rockland County legislator, argued the money was well spent to defend the village's zoning code.

On the other side, former Mayor John Layne, the congregation's lawyer and some residents said the village wasted taxpayer money by defending a zoning code that they knew discriminated.

Layne said Wednesday that he had negotiated a settlement with Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov before the U.S. Attorney's Office filed its 2005 civil rights lawsuit.

The village board approved Layne's settlement by a vote of 3-2.

After Anthony Valenti won election to the village board, he joined Kay and Meyers to rescind the settlement with the congregation. The U.S. Attorney's Office in White Plains filed its lawsuit soon afterward.

"I don't think $450,000 of the people's money is worth spending when the indications early on was this was not a winner," Layne said. "All this accomplished was delay at the expense of the taxpayers. The government is not supposed to be rolling the dice with the people's money."

Kay and Meyers said the village defended its zoning, a main function of government.

As a result, they said, the congregation has not built its school and 170-student dormitory, along with 30 apartments for faculty and married students, on 19 acres along Hillside Avenue.

Meyers, a lawyer, said settling the case wouldn't have stopped the the U.S. Attorney's Office from filing its lawsuit. He said the village founders were wrong to adopt a zoning code prohibiting synagogues in residental areas and student housing.


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