Court Decisions related to Hillside Avenue (Oct 3, 2005)

Airmont Trustee Joe Meyers recently sent out information about the Hillside litigation. You can read his update about the federal court conference held on the cases in White Plains.

In brief, there are three lawsuits floating around the Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov application on Hillside Ave. One lawsuit (brought by the Borough of Upper Saddle River) charges that the Airmont Planning Board Meeting was illegal because the overflow crowd of several hundred were mainly kept out of a public meeting. It was at that meeting that the Board named itself as the lead agency for the application.

The second lawsuit (brought by the Hillside Avenue Preservation Association) claims that the Village violated New Yorkís Sunshine Law in the way it voted to accept the settlement to let the Congregationís application proceed despite the zoning restrictions. And the third is from the Department of Justice, accusing Airmont of violating the RLUIPA legislation and the Fair Housing Act.

Trustee Meyersí letter explains where the lawsuits are now, who will hear them, and what the proposed schedule will be.

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Hello Everyone,

    I wanted to update all of you on the status of the Hillside litigation as there was a federal court conference held on the main and related cases in White Plains on Friday.  The following is the brief history of the cases which appeared in our September newsletter followed by the results of what happened in court on Friday.  If you are already familiar with the history of the case, simply scroll down past the history section to find out what happened on Friday:

History of the Case

As many of you know, the Village is in the midst of litigation concerning its zoning laws and the application by the Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov, Inc. (the "Congregation") to construct a mixed use project on Hillside Avenue including a private school, dormitory and townhouses off Hillside Avenue on property zoned one single family residence per each one and a quarter acre.  On January 3, 2005 the Village Board approved, by a 3-2 vote (Yes: Layne, Spampinato and Kugel.  No:  Meyers and Kay), a settlement of the case (the "Settlement").  The Settlement allowed the Congregation to submit a modified version of its original plan to the Planning Board for approval and prohibited the Village from denying that application as incompatible with the Villageís zoning laws. 

After the Congregation submitted the application, the Planning Board held a meeting in Village Hall in April to take the first, preliminary and ministerial steps in the environmental review of the application.  There was significantly more public interest and attendance at this meeting than the Planning Board reasonably anticipated and not everyone who wanted to could fit in the meeting room.

The Borough of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey commenced a proceeding against the Planning Board in Rockland County Supreme Court alleging that holding this meeting in a room that was not large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend violated the New York Open Meetings Law.  The Planning Board disputes this and has opposed Upper Saddle Riverís request to void the actions taken by the Board at the meeting.  The Courtís decision is pending.  On September 1, 2005, at the request of the Village of Airmont, the Court entered a temporary restraining order tolling the time for the Village to conduct the environmental review of the Congregationís pending application.  A hearing on that issue has been scheduled for September 23.

In May, the Hillside Avenue Preservation Association (made up of Airmont residents who live nearby the proposed development) filed a lawsuit against the Village of Airmont, among others, alleging that the settlement of the Congregationís lawsuit was not authorized by New York law.  The Congregation intervened in this case and caused it to be transferred to Federal Court.  The case is pending.

In June, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") sued the Village alleging that its zoning laws violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the Fair Housing Act ("FHA").  The Department of Justice alleges that the Villageís failure to allow boarding schools as "of right" uses within the Village violates these statutes and discriminates on the basis of religion.  The Village has filed a motion to dismiss this lawsuit on the ground that no RLUIPA or FHA violation is stated by the complaint, and because RLUIPA is unconstitutional.

Lastly, the Village had requested a conference with the Federal Judge assigned to the Congregationís lawsuit against it.  The conference was requested to discuss the scheduling and narrowing of issues for a motion to be made by the Village to set aside the earlier settlement of this case as done in violation of New York law.  That conference was currently scheduled for  September 30th.

Summary of Results of Court Conference Held on Steptember 30th

The Village of Airmont had argued before Judge Stein (another federal judge in NY or presided over the Hillside settlement) on September 12th that the various cases pending in Federal court relating to the Hillside case should be assigned to Judge Robinson in White Plains.  At Friday's conference, the Court agreed with our request and Judge Robinson in White Plains will be presiding over the Hillside and all related cases. 

The Village of Airmont's attorneys defeated an attempt by the Department of Justice's attorneys'  to proceed with discovery  in the case (taking depositions and trading information between the two sides to prepare for trial) pending a resolution of our motion to dismiss.  The DOJ argued that discovery should proceed while the Village's motion to dismiss is pending.  Judge Robinson agreed with the Village that the issues raised by our motion to dismiss the DOJ case merited a stay of discovery in the DOJ action.

During the conference on Friday, the parties discussed the various motions they wanted to make and the court set briefing schedules for each of those motions. 

The Village's motion to set aside the Stipulation is to be made on December 16, and will be fully briefed by January 13. An oral argument date for that motion has not yet been set.

Judge Robinson indicated that he would not consider a motion from the Village to stay (i.e. a temporary halt) the Congregation's application before the Village of Airmont's Planning Board at this time.  He stated that his opinion was that the costs to be incurred by the Village were not substantial and did not warrant a stay.  However, he did say that, should he grant the motion to set aside the Stipulation, any action taken by the Village and its respective boards in furtherance of the Stipulation would be void.

Oral argument on the Village's motion to dismiss the Department of Justice complaint is to be held on January 12. 

Another conference was scheduled for March 3.

 I hope the above information is helpful to you, although there is some legalese involved in these matters and it is a little hard to follow the play by play without a legal background.  I apologize for any confusion.  Basically, there is no bottom line to report at this time, as no final decisions have been made by the Judge in any of the cases, and the conference on Friday was intended more to set a schedule and decide which motions would be presented and when.  When there is anything additional to tell you about we will do so in a newsletter from the Village.

Regards,

Joe Meyers