Monday, April 05, 2021

Mystery Continues to Surround a Yeshiva Congregation’s Plans for Briarcliff Manor Property 

The recent purchase of a former Pace University campus in Briarcliff Manor has raised some questions from local residents and officials. First among those questions is what the Monsey-based Yeshiva of  Viznitz D'Khal Torath Chaim, Inc. plans to do with the property. 

The same congregation bought another campus last fall – the 107-acre Nyack College campus in the Village of South Nyack, along with two other parcels – with plans to use the property for educating hundreds of high school and college-age students. South Nyack subsequently filed suit against the Hasidic Jewish congregation for using buildings with safety violations and for not attaining proper village permits and inspections.  

Nyack College operated a tax-exempted Christian college on the property before its 2019 closure. According to lohud.com, the congregation's attorney argued the property has status that allows for educational facilities, while the village's attorney stated the congregation might be required to reapply for a special education permit. 

Briarcliff Manor officials have also raised the question of whether the former Pace University property's special permit for educational use needs to be renewed or the property reverts to single-family zoning. However, the Hasidic Jewish congregation has yet to state its intentions for the Briarcliff property. In a March 5 email to residents, Briarcliff Village Manager Philip Zegarelli indicated the Village was not contacted about the change in ownership before its sale and no plans for the property were submitted. 

There have also been questions regarding the price the congregation paid for the campus. It bought the property, which includes dormitories, offices, a pair of athletic fields, a garage and a barn, in February from the Research Center on Natural Conservation for $11.75 million. The research center—founded by the CEO of Beijing-based Fang Holdings Ltd.—paid Pace $17.4 million for the campus in 2017, and records from the Town of Ossining assess its value at $17.7 million.  

Since the parcel of land is currently on the tax rolls, D'Khal Torath Chaim would seemingly have to apply for tax-exempt status. 

Zegarelli also wrote in his email that the property's residential zoning allows single-family homes on one-acre lots, but that Pace had operated as a school under a special use permit. Under village code, such permits expire after 12 months of inactivity, and the Research Center on Natural Conservation did not obtain a special permit after acquiring the property from Pace. 

Briarcliff Manor has recently strengthened its methods of evaluating and managing special use permit applications, according to Zegarelli's email. In doing so, the village looks to identify how properties with special use permits impact the local traffic, schools and resources. "We also clarified the termination of special permit uses once the approved use ceases to operate continuously," he noted.  

Zegarelli wrote that enhanced public notification procedures would provide more awareness for residents of any such proposals coming before the Village. "The Board of Trustees assures all residents that information on all land use applications will be disseminated efficiently, transparently, and fully, as soon as such information is available," the Briarcliff Village Manager's email stated. 

Given some of the comments on the Briarcliff Community Facebook Page, there are residents already concerned that the former Pace campus may face some of the complexities surrounding the Yeshiva's South Nyack purchase. One person wrote, "Not an expert on this issue, but what can the village do proactively to ensure this doesn't get out of hand? Taking a wait and see approach could turn out bad for the community." Another commented, "Considering what is occurring in Nyack, this is extremely concerning."  

However, on an earlier story posted on River Journal's website, one reader commented about the Yeshiva purchasing the campus: "Better than having those buildings and land wasted."


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