Village Loses Appeals on Place of Worship Lawsuit in NYS Appellate Court

The following is an email from Chestnut Ridge activist Jerry Liebelson’s Chestnut Ridge Communications. It was sent March 17, 2023, and those interested in receiving these notices can sign up directly via an email to PUBLIC@JLWARE.COM.

“Hi all,

On Wednesday, March 15, 2023, there were significant new developments in the New York State lawsuit challenging the 2019 decision by the Village of Chestnut Ridge to adopt Local Law #1 of 2019 regulating places (houses) of worship in residential neighborhoods.

A 3-judge panel of the New York State Appellate Court, Second Dept RULED UNANIMOUSLY IN CUPON’S FAVOR on BOTH of the VILLAGE’S APPEALS.

I will now unpack what this all means. But first, I must curb your expectations right away regarding the future outcome: This case and the federal one are long roads. These new rulings are merely one more step along a typically meandering path towards a final decision. This is how the rule and process of law works. With these March 15 rulings, we simply head back from the meander to the main road.

(NOTE: This case is entirely separate from the federal lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, where it is CUPON that appealed a lower court ruling. Oral arguments for that are scheduled for May 4.)

CUPON’s New York State Article 78 Petition & Declaratory Judgement Action
CUPON of Chestnut Ridge filed its state lawsuit on March 21, 2019 and made the following 6 claims (causes). The first 3 claims challenge the Board of Trustee’s adoption of the place of worship law as failures of required governance, in accordance with Section 7803 (Article 78) of NY Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR). The second 3 claims address certain improprieties of process in connection with the law’s creation, and are packaged separately as a declaratory judgement action.

Environmental Claims (under Article 78)
1st CAUSE. Village failed to identify several relevant areas of environmental concern under SEQRA (NY State Environmental Quality Review Act)  
2nd CAUSE. Village did not look at the cumulative, long term overall impact of the new law but instead improperly relied upon future case-by-case SEQRA analysis to be done for each respective project when it comes before the land-use boards. The latter is referred to as impermissible segmentation.  
3rd CAUSE. Village failed to take a “hard look” at several relevant areas of environmental concern, which it identified, and failed to provide a “reasoned elaboration” of the basis for its determination — as required under SEQRA. Process Claims (Declaratory Judgment Action)
4th CAUSE. Village failed to refer the proposed law to the county planning agency for review BEFORE taking final action.  
5th CAUSE. Village wrongly used a simple letter by Brooker Engineering, submitted on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Coalition of Chestnut Ridge, as a formal petition requesting changes to the village’s zoning laws, as required by Article XVII sections 290-10 and 290-11 of village code.  
6th CAUSE. Passage of the 2019 Place of Worship Law relied upon a municipal resolution that contained materially false and derogatory information. This refers to the 22-page resolution adopted by the Village Board on the night of February 21, 2019 to formally enact the law.

Rockland County Supreme Court Rulings and Subsequent Appeals The Village initially moved to dismiss CUPON of Chestnut Ridge’s suit upon several grounds.

On October 4th, 2019 Rockland County Supreme Court Judge Paul Marx denied the Village’s motion to dismiss on the first 3 environmental claims. The Village appealed that decision, claiming among other things, that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to bring the case. (The Village made the same argument in the federal case.)

But on the second 3 process claims, Judge Marx ruled in favor of the Village by granting their motion to dismiss because of a technical issue. CUPON, however, then refiled those 3 causes a month later, and on March 5, 2020 Judge Marx denied yet another motion to dismiss by the Village. The Village then appealed that ruling as well, and introduced an entirely new argument in their reply which CUPON had no opportunity to respond to.

Decisions by the NYS Appellate Court on the Village’s 2 Appeals

The decisions now handed down by the NYS Appellate Court panel on March 15, 2023 unanimously affirmed the county supreme court rulings and denied both Village’s appeals with court costs to be paid by the Village.

You can read the text of the Court’s decisions at the links below. CLICK HERE for Decision on Environmental Claims Appeal (2019-11974) CLICK HERE for Decision on Process Claims Appeal (2020-03089)

On rejecting the Village’s appeal of the 3 environmental claims, the panel ruled (2019-11974):
Contrary to the Village’s contention, the petitioners, all of whom own property affected by the zoning amendments, have standing to challenge the subject amendments and the alleged failure to comply with the procedures mandated by SEQRA.  
Furthermore, the first and second causes of action sufficiently alleged that segmentation of the environmental review of HOW [ie. the 2019 place of worship law] prevented a comprehensive assessment in contravention of the requirements of SEQRA.  
Additionally, the evidence submitted by the Village in support of the motion either was not documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1), did not resolve all factual issues as a matter of law, or did not conclusively establish that a material fact as claimed by the petitioners was not a fact at all, and that no significant dispute exists regarding it.

The panel rejected the Village’s appeal of the 3 process claims (2020-03089). It also noted that the county supreme court judge was correct to decline consideration of their later argument and evidence because it was only submitted for the first time in their reply papers, in contravention of long standing law, and CUPON was not given an opportunity to address it. (As reported in the January 10th, 2023 newsletter, the village attorneys did not show up for the oral arguments before the appellate court.)

What Happens Next

One initial possibility: The Village may seek to appeal right away to the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in NY) but the Village would have to first obtain the permission of the Appellate Court to do so. (NOTE: The NY Supreme Court is a trial court only, and actually not the highest court.)

Otherwise, the Village will now have to submit an answer to these decisions, and CUPON will in turn submit a reply. Judge Marx of Rockland County Supreme Court will hear these submissions and then make a decision. This time, his decision will be on the actual 6 claims themselves, and not on any indirect issues like timeliness or standing. Back to the main road of the case.

Any appeals on Judge Marx’s decision would then repeat the trip back up to the Appellate Court with briefs filed, followed by another 2 year wait, then oral arguments and a decision. Then, possibly a final appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, and it’s over. (NOTE: The NY Court of Appeals only hears about 3% of the cases it receives.)

Unregulated Places of Worship in the Village Today

As a final note, people should know that though it is being contested in court, the 2019 place of worship law is on the books, and is the law of the land at this time. Despite that, 10 or more informal places of worship in our residential neighborhoods are operating, without any compliance with the law; with no effort by the corresponding congregations to apply for compliance; and with no effort by village code enforcement to seek compliance.

As reported in the March 14 newsletter, the Village is now proceeding down a course to have village taxpayers eventually pay for most of the cost of building sidewalks on double-lined roads to allow ultra-religious residents to safely walk to/from these unregulated places of worship. (The total cost will be nearly $14 million and would be funded with bonds issued when interest rates are currently high.)

Meanwhile, village residents are at risk from the unregulated activities at these properties, which take place 7 days/nights each week in most cases.

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING AROUND 8AM on FEBRUARY 1, 2023, a CAR ACCIDENT OCCURRED in FRONT of the UNREGULATED SYNAGOGUE at 3 SPRING HILL TERRACE, as congregants were leaving the morning services. (I have a copy of the police report. See photo below) A resident who lives on Midway Road was making a left turn onto Spring Hill Terrace, from Route 45. A congregant parked on the street in front of 3 Spring Hill tried to make a U-turn to head back to Route 45, and drove right into the resident’s car.

(These U-turns at nearly all of the gatherings because many of the congregants actually don’t live in the immediate neighborhood; some don’t even live in the village. Moreover, on just about any day, there are cars parked facing the wrong way illegally on 3 Spring Hill, and worse, parked illegally too close to the corner with Route 45. In fact, as I write this now at 11 am today, I had just returned from down there while having a police officer issue tickets for 3 minivans parked in that latter way; one incurred an additional fine because the rear of his car was over the crosswalk.)

The resident who was struck in the February 1st accident was injured and was taken to the hospital – the injury was reported in the police report. Situations like this and worse are going to keep happening, all because of the daily and nightly unregulated activities taking place at 2 & 3 Spring Hill Terrace and other non-compliant places of worship in the village. One day, somebody will get seriously injured, and die.

The 3 Spring Hill Terrace congregation has demonstrated complete disregard for the interests of other neighborhood residents and the safety hazards from their operations. Mayor Presti and the Board of Trustees are deliberately allowing these unregulated activities to occur without acting to seek compliance with the law. Our newly appointed county legislator, Joel Friedman, is a regular congregant of the 3 Spring Hill Terrace synagogue.

So folks, this is why we have legal action on this and other matters — it’s because our current government leaders will not act in the interests of all residents; we no longer have sufficient political power to change this leadership; and the community of residents electing this leadership have no interest or need to work together with all residents so we can all cohabitate safely and respectfully together.  


A reminder from my March 14 newsletter: There will be a village election next week on Tuesday, March 21, 2023The polling place is Village Hall, NOT the ambulance place. On the ballot will be the 3 currently serving Trustees and Village Justice, with no declared opposition. I recommend everybody come out and vote. If you don’t want to vote for any or all of the Trustee candidates, I suggest you write-in the following village residents: ▪ Jerry Liebelson   ▪ Anthony L. Shaut   ▪ Steven J. Wasserman IMPORTANT: You must enter the names with the exact spelling given above. AND you must fill in the ovals for each corresponding Write-In.”   _ ____________________________________________ _

REMINDER: This newsletter is written solely by me, Jerry Liebelson, a longtime resident of the Village, based on publicly available documents and attendance of village board meetings and workshops. It is NOT produced by the Village of Chestnut Ridge, which does not make this information available to residents in this way. Feel free to email any questions, comments, observations or signup requests for the newsletter and to specific interest group emails. If you received this newsletter via forwarding or otherwise, please sign up directly; your personal contact info will remain private and not be distributed. Subscribers are not visible to one another. Chestnut Ridge Communications is open to subscription for all residents in the village and nearby communities. Jerry Liebelson
Chestnut Ridge, NY
Since 1962
PUBLIC@JLWARE.COM   ©2023 Jerry Liebelson | PUBLIC@JLWARE.COM Chestnut Ridge, NY
Wednesday 8am, February 1st, 2023 – Car Accident at 3 Spring Hill Terrace unregulated synagogue after morning services.