Thursday, July 17, 2014

Annexation for development illegal; Hasidic development construction OK 

In a split decision, a judge ruled Wednesday that the annexation of Town of Mamakating land for a 396-home Hasidic development in this tiny village was illegal, but construction of the controversial town houses could continue.

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick basically agreed with the claims of the Rural Community Coalition and the Town of Mamakating that the annexation of the land on Winterton Road violated the state constitution because it occurred without a vote of the residents of that land. But he also ruled that because the annexation took place in 2006, and construction of the homes is well underway, too much time elapsed to stop it.

Schick then seemed to toss the case back to the Town of Mamakating, whose supervisor is an opponent of the development.

"Having expected that a full build out of their project had been appropriately approved, it would now be improper for this court to judicially deny the developer defendants of the right to complete that project," Schick wrote. "Therefore this court does not grant the town's request for a preliminary injunction and it remains for the town to decide what it now does with the territory under its jurisdiction, including refusing to enforce legislation it believes to be invalid."

Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann said it was too early to say what the town would do.

"We need some time to absorb the decision and consult our lawyer," he said.

But a lawyer for the Rural Community Coalition said the decision was "what we expected."

"I'm glad we accomplished the main objective to stay the annexation," said Kurt Johnson of Bloomingburg. "But I wish we could have stopped the project where it is."

The developer of Chestnut Ridge, Shalom Lamm, said he would appeal the part of the decision that said the annexation was illegal. He referred to a June state Appellate Court decision that said the RCC and Mamakating failed to prove they could win their challenge.

"While we're pleased that the court dismissed the majority of the plaintiff's claims, we believe that portion of the decision dealing with annexation is inconstant with the Appellate Court's prior determination," Lamm said. "We're confident that the Appellate Court will correct the ruling on annexation on appeal. This decision will not serve justice but will cost the taxpayers of Mamakating even more in continued litigation."

The ruling dismissed conflict of interest charges against former Bloomingburg Mayor Mark Berentsen for buying land from Lamm and then signing an agreement giving that land access to the sewer system Lamm is building for the development and village — although it again sympathized with the charges.

"It is patently clear that the developer secured his private interests ... and certain municipal employees secured their private interests while the public's interest was left to wilt on the vine, but ... plaintiff's actions do not effectively allege fraud ... " the ruling said.


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