Accusations Fly While Chester Defends Against Attorney General Intervention
By Edie Johnson
The Town of Chester has struggled with several developers over the past ten years, while trying to encourage “Smart Growth” while limiting overdevelopment. After several years of writing a new Comprehensive Plan, they sought to purchase open space and limit further high density development. Their decisions now has them embroiled in a controversy over a 431-unit project called The Greens of Chester on Route 94 heading south, just out of the Village, a project which has been in litigation for well over a decade. Lawsuit after lawsuit has piled up costs that now threaten the Town’s fiscal viability. With several clips of a few officials who over the years made inappropriate remarks about the Hasidic population the development planned for marketing, the suits claim that the town’s reluctance to approve the project is based on bias. Meanwhile, the majority of town residents, have shown no indications of bias. But they are beginning to show signs of panic over their town’s fiscal and environmental future. The efforts toward environmental planning that have been worked on for years were brought into question. And this week, arguing that bias is at the root of it, the developer brought the issue to Attorney General Leticia James, who now promises to “Intervene to stop these acts of Antisemitism” . In a statement by James on Thursday, she announced
“The Town of Chester and Orange County have allegedly engaged in a campaign to stop members of the Jewish community from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of a housing development. Not on my watch: I’m intervening in a lawsuit to fight these clear acts of anti-Semitism. Chester and Orange County officials have publicly discussed their plans to keep Hasidic Jews out of their town and imposed unnecessary actions to prevent them from moving there – clear violations of our laws and values. This will not be tolerated.”
Response was quick, from Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, a Press Release from Town Supervisor Bob Valentine, and a Town of Chester Council Member Stephen Keahon
Assemblyman Colin Schmitt
“This unprecedented intervention by the New York State Attorney General seeking to infringe on a local municipality’s home rule authority is unacceptable. The Attorney General is not representing the citizens of Chester or Orange County by taking this extraordinary step. On the contrary, she is seeking to directly prevent the duly elected Chester town government from representing Chester residents who want to preserve the rural character of their community through longstanding zoning and planning laws.
For years, the Attorney General’s office stood silent as the illegal practice called blockbusting has impacted South Blooming Grove and other communities in the Hudson Valley. Instead of enforcing laws designed to protect homeowners, the Attorney General is now seeking to bring an action purportedly related to the Fair Housing Act that would benefit this one private developer.
This intervention will negatively impact Chester and have long term ramifications for countless communities throughout our region. As this action plays out through the legal process, I invite Attorney General James to join me in Chester to meet with a diverse group of community members to understand the real issues at hand here and the significant impacts they have on all members of the community.”
Town of Chester Press Release
In what appears to be an orchestrated attempt to pressure the Town of Chester into accepting the Greens at Chester’s recent settlement demand, New York Assistant Attorney General Sonia Khan contacted the Town’s Special Council to ask the Town to immediately consent to the Attorney General’s intervention in the Greens’ Federal Court Litigation. The Attorney General’s Office placed the call less than four business hours after the Greens served a settlement demand on the Town’s Special Counsel, Mary Marzolla, Esq., of Feerick Nugent MacCartney, PLLC. Khan told Marzolla that the Attorney General’s Office required an answer by the close of business to the consent request.
The attorney General’s Office was informed that a Town must act pursuant to the State’s Open Meetings Law and cannot respond on such short notice. When asked if the Attorney General’s Office wanted to hear from the Town before seeking intervention, the Attorney General’s Office declined, apparently seeking intervention solely based on information provided by the Greens. The Attorney General’s Office also declined to provide details as to the basis for its intervention. Previous attempts by the Town’s Counsel to provide information to the Attorney General’s Office were unanswered.
With this morning’s court filing it is apparent that the AG Office is acting in the service of the interests of one private developer, seeking injunctive relief for that party in the form of immediate approval of its development proposal without regard to its enormous impacts on local infrastructure and systems, or its divergence from code. “The NY Attorney General’s Office exists to represent and listen to all the people of this State, not just politically influential factions,” Marzolla states. “There is no reason for it to be unnecessarily involved in this matter on behalf of a private developer that can sufficiently represent itself.”
“It is disheartened by the timing of the Attorney General’s actions here, and the refusal of the Attorney General to hear from the Town before seeking to intervene in this matter.” Supervisor Robert Valentine of the Town of Chester remarked. “I look forward to the Federal Court’s determination that will be based on input from both sides and not on political influence.”
Stephen Keahon of “Preserve Chester” to the AG (in part)
I think it is shameful that just because a Developer wants to build homes twice the size of the original court agreement this is the road we are going down. Building permits were denied because the parameters of a PREVIOUS settlement are not being followed. Period.
Are you saying that a 431 home development in our small little town is being predetermined for 1 group of people ? Isn’t that a Violation of fair housing laws ?
We need to do what we can to save viable farmland contributing to our Economy and Environment. If we continue this fashion without smart planning our Farms will be flooded, and our Historic Properties will be destroyed. Chester’s infrastructure is limited, and we need to have a smart long-term growth plan. We do not have the Water or Sewer. We need to protect our aquifers. This bill is for everyone in the Community present and future to have a healthy and thriving community with clean water and economically working farmlands.
“I ask you Tish James, have you ever been to Chester? Have you seen our small rural farm town and Village? Have you spoken to anyone in our Town or just basing your decision from one side ? “