New York Seeks to Intervene in Controversial Orange County Development Project Court Case

Real Estate In-Depth | December 2019

CHESTER– New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced on Dec. 5 she had taken action to fight what she terms are discriminatory housing practices the Town of Chester and Orange County have utilized to prevent members of the Jewish community from moving to Chester.

Attorney General James filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the Town of Chester and Orange County alleging that they have engaged in a concerted and systematic effort to prevent Hasidic Jewish families from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of “The Greens at Chester” housing development.

The original lawsuit, filed in July 2019 by the developers of the “The Greens at Chester,” outlined alleged discriminatory and unnecessary actions that Chester and Orange County had taken to stop the homes from being built in order to prevent Jewish families from purchasing and occupying them in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“Blocking the construction of homes to prevent a religious group from living in a community is flat out discriminatory,” said Attorney General James. “This campaign to deny housing to members of the Jewish community is not only a clear violation of our laws, but is antithetical to our basic values and blatantly anti-Semitic. New York has a longstanding commitment to ensure equal housing opportunities for all residents – regardless of race, gender, or religious identity—and we will ensure this commitment is upheld.”

The Fair Housing Act dictates that it is unlawful for anyone to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling based on an individuals’ religion, race, sex, national origin, or familial status, among other protected classes.

In October 2017, The Greens purchased a 117-acre property in the Town of Chester in Orange County, New York, which had been fully approved for residential development under the ownership of the previous developer. Since The Greens’ purchase in 2017, officials from both the county and the town have repeatedly sought to block development of the site and have openly expressed discriminatory intent to block the development at public town meetings, explicitly referencing their desire to keep Hasidic families out of their community, the Attorney General charged.

Additionally, the Attorney General noted that the town and county placed multiple obstacles in the way of the developers in an attempt to thwart construction, all in violation of a settlement agreement reached in 2010 regarding the zoning and construction of the land.

Representatives of the Hasidic Jewish community and the developers of The Greens at Chester praised the Attorney General’s actions, according to press reports.

Orange County Attorney Langdon Chapman stated that the Greens at Chester lawsuit has no merit, according to a report in the Middletown Times Herald Record. “In short, the Attorney General has not identified a single permit being withheld by the county,” Chapman’s statement said. “Asking the state to do its job and review constituent concerns about water quality is perfectly reasonable. The state is apparently reviewing their state permit…. Given the above, the Attorney General should re-visit their claims against the county.”

New York State Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt (R,C,I-New Windsor) released a statement critical of Attorney General Letitia James’ intervention. “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.”