Saturday, January 03, 2015

Developer Lamm sues Mamakating appeals board, 2 residents 

A lawsuit has been filed against the Mamakating Zoning Board of Appeals and two residents following the board’s reversal of an approval for a mikvah, a ritual bath for Orthodox Jews, in the town.

The lawsuit, filed in Sullivan County Supreme Court on Dec. 22 by Winterton Properties, LLC, says the board made its decision to not allow construction of the mikvah based on an “irrational and illegal interpretation of the zoning law.”

It also says the board not only showed a misunderstanding of what a mikvah is, but that it does not allow for its construction in any town zoning districts.

The mikvah, to be on Winterton Road, was meant to serve developer Shalom Lamm’s controversial 396-home Hasidic community and others in Bloomingburg.

It was deemed a neighborhood place of worship by Mamakating Building Inspector Mary Grass in May and then granted site plan approval by the Mamakating Planning Board on June 24.

However, two residents - Donna Matland and Hilmar Maier - who live on Winterton Road, appealed the decision before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board members unanimously agreed it was not an allowed use and was not considered a place of worship, in November.

The lawsuit says the board’s description of the mikvah as an “accessory” to a synagogue was incorrect. It also says board member Stephen Prall’s likening the mikvah to a “swimming pool” was “particularly demeaning to adherents of Orthodox Judaism.”

The lawsuit asks for attorneys fees and that the ZBA’s decision be invalidated.

Michael Fragin, spokesman for the corporation and for Lamm, says the board’s ruling violates the right to worship freely.

“It’s not consistent with American values,” Fragin said.

ZBA Chairman Matthew Mordas declined to comment.

Supervisor Bill Hermann said both the planning board and the ZBA made decisions based on “facts and evidence” presented to them, and that now it's merely a “parsing of words.”

Hermann said he doesn’t understand why the lawsuit names Matland and Maier; he says they are residents who went through the normal appeals process.

According to Hermann, Lamm is simply suing people who don’t agree with him and labeling them “anti-Semitic.”

Fragin said that when a government isn't treating a particular religion fairly, there aren't many options other than to go to court.


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