Thursday, March 04, 2021
The Ramapo-based yeshiva that bought Nyack College for $45.5 million has started using several campus buildings despite safety violations and without village permits and inspections.
That's according to a lawsuit filed by the village in state Supreme Court.
The Yeshiva Viznitz Dkhal Torath Chaim is ignoring village and state laws, according to the complaint. The village wants the congregation to cease any use of the buildings until repairs are made and necessary permits are issued.
The property's sale to the Hasidic Jewish congregation helped fuel the village dissolution movement, out of concern the yeshiva would not abide by village and state laws pertaining to the use and development of the 106-acre campus.
The yeshiva plans to initially operate schools for 250 college-level students and 250 high-school level students, the congregation's attorney Joseph Churgin, of Nanuet, has said. He has said he's not aware of any plans for high-density housing.
The village also is asking the court to confirm the property's educational use permit has expired and the zoning has reverted back to single-family housing, negating automatic use as a school.
The village argues in its complaint that the nonconforming use ended when the property had not been used for a year for education. The college supposedly ceased operating in September 2019 and the congregation completed the sale on Dec. 20, 2020, according to the complaint.
Churgin said the yeshiva has not been served with the village's complaint.
"Apparently it was more important to the village to leak it to the press before serving it on our client," Churgin said. "If and when the complaint is served, our client will vigorously defend its constitutional rights to operate a religious college at the site just as Nyack College did – for more than 100 years."
The village's complaint states it has no opposition to an educational faculty on the property. However, the complaint filed Wednesday contends the congregation must obtain permits, certificates of occupancy and make appropriate repairs and restorations to ensure the property can be occupied safely.
The former Nyack College property is legally separate parcels needing permits for each of the dozens of buildings on the 106-acre campus – educational-related, office, residential and dormitory.
South Nyack's complaint states the village advised the congregation of the property's status and the congregation agreed to seek special use permits where needed. The congregation has backed away from its agreement and is using some of the buildings, the complaint states.
"Such actions are necessary and appropriate for the health and safety of those on the premises," the complaint states.
Included in the purchase were properties approved for use consistent with the operation of Nyack College: 102-106 S. Highland Ave., 154 S. Highland Ave., 155 S. Highland Ave., 165 S. Highland Ave., 45 South Blvd., 47 South Blvd., 49 South Blvd., 55 South Blvd., and 65 South Blvd.
Violations cited, registrations needed
Violations were issued for the buildings by Scott Fine, the village fire and building inspector. The complaint cites violations of fire safety; lighting; heating; hazardous substances; access to emergency vehicles; access and egress, including fire escapes from upper levels; as well as other safety requirements related to sewer and water; and village, town, county and state regulations.
The congregation has not yet registered with the New York State Education Department as a secondary, post-secondary, or other educational programs, as required under state law, according to the village complaint.
The state Education Department has not yet conducted necessary annual fire safety inspections required to protect students and staff in such educational settings, the complaint states.
Churgin didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Churgin has represented Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic institutions in Ramapo against municipalities on land-use issues. He's one of the attorneys representing the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov Inc., which has attempted to build housing in Pomona. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Tarikov's appeal of a lower court decision for Pomona.
The congregation bought Nyack College and two other properties in December. The sale included Alliance Theological Seminary property on Route 9W in Upper Nyack and property in Orangetown.
Nyack College, facing a nearly $40 million debt, ceased operating in September 2019.
The sale has caused much debate and consternation among residents of the Orangetown village, spurring a movement to dissolve the government and let Orangetown control the community's land-use decision, provide police, public works and other services.
Many residents criticized Mayor Bonnie Christian and the village's four trustees for being passive as the sale's talks evolved.
Nyack College officials originally fronted for a developer who wanted to build high-density housing following a sale, but the village could not alter the college's special permit as an educational facility to allow such construction. The developer would have had to go through a long planning process.
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