Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Kiryas Joel challenges Camp La Guardia redevelopment plans 

Kiryas Joel has sued to challenge plans for commercial redevelopment of Orange County's 258-acre Camp La Guardia property, demanding that a judge undo Chester's rezoning of part of the property and prohibit the host municipalities from taking any further actions until they've done a detailed review of the potential environmental impact.

The lawsuit is the latest roadblock for a project that has languished for nearly a decade. The county bought the former New York City homeless shelter complex from New York City for $8.5 million in 2007, and later contracted with a Scarsdale developer to buy the property and build 807 apartments and houses and 165,750 square feet of commercial space. Those plans stalled for years and finally ended this year, when the county paid the prospective buyer $1.2 million to break the sale contract and announced plans to court business development only.

The case is also the latest skirmish Kiryas Joel has waged with neighboring communities and the county over its growth and constant housing demand. The village and its attorneys have voiced mounting objections to commercial projects such as Camp La Guardia and the proposed Legoland in Goshen, arguing in their new lawsuit that the county and municipal leaders are engaging in "protectionist efforts" to attract new businesses to open land and thwart multi-family housing that might serve the Hasidic community.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in response to the lawsuit: "This is the type of behavior that negatively impacts all Orange County taxpayers and is just one more reason why taxpayers feel abused by Kiryas Joel. The so-called poorest community in the nation tries to frustrate economic development by hiring high-priced lawyers to keep this property from being put back on the tax rolls. Camp La Guardia offers great economic potential and it is disappointing that Kiryas Joel is trying to stop that."

Kiryas Joel officials counter by recalling the county's own court challenges - also largely on environmental grounds - against the village's $50 million Catskill Aqueduct water project and annexation of 164 acres. "The county has sued Kiryas Joel on multiple occasions to try to stop our community from serving the residents with water and residential housing," Kiryas Joel officials said in an emailed statement. "KJ was forced to retain high priced lawyers to defend our right to clean drinking water and affordable housing."

The lawsuit asks the judge to annul a zoning change by the Chester Town Board in June that designated 60 acres of the Camp La Guardia site for light industry instead of an office park. Blooming Grove is considering changing the zoning for its 39 acres of Camp La Guardia to "non-nuisance industry" rather than "rural residential," but has not yet done so.

"We're not trying to do anything except increase our ratables," Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Fromaget said, referring to the property-tax bounty that new businesses bring.

Kiryas Joel's case was filed in state Supreme Court in Goshen on Oct. 21 and has been assigned to Justice Maria Vazquez-Doles, the wife of Town of Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles - a political ally of the village's leaders.

Defendants include the county, the town and village of Chester and Blooming Grove.

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