Friday, March 27, 2015

Mamakating board gives approval for private school for Hasidic girls 

After appearing before two different planning boards over more than two years, developer Shalom Lamm's private school for Hasidic girls was finally approved Tuesday night.

The Town of Mamakating Planning Board approved the Learning Tree school in the eastern Sullivan County Village of Bloomingburg after the school's water supply received the go-ahead from the state Department of Health, according to board member Mort Starobin.

The school is expected to attract students from Lamm's 396-home Hasidic development in Bloomingburg - which is located in the Town of Mamakating. Lamm had hoped to open the school in September, but it was delayed due to numerous concerns raised by the board.

The team behind Learning Tree said it is pleased with the approval, but it wishes it hadn't taken so long and cost so much in attorney's fees.

"Nonetheless, the Jewish community is gratified that we can move forward and serve the needs of Jewish children in Bloomingburg," said Michael Fragin on behalf of the village's Hasidic Jewish community. "We hope that the local government will no longer stand in the way of the education of children."

Fragin is referring to the Bloomingburg Planning Board's initial denial of approval for the school in 2013. Lamm then filed a lawsuit claiming the board was pressured by residents "motivated by blatant and ugly religious bigotry."

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick then forced the board to review the school. But before that could happen, the Bloomingburg Planning Board was dissolved by the village's new administration. This left the Mamakating Planning Board to review the project - and start the approval process all over again.

Lamm is now suing the town and village for $25 million, claiming "pervasive government-sponsored religious discrimination through the use of zoning laws and other legislation."

Planning Board officials have denied the claim.

Starobin said the school wasn't treated any differently than other projects that have come before the board. All the board wanted was the required information to allow it to move forward.

"All we can go on is the information submitted and the information we have," Starobin said. "Whether we like it or not has nothing to do with our decision."

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