Thursday, September 01, 2011

Court Orders No Town Board Saturday Discussion of Land Use Issue Impacting Jewish Group

In the town of Bethel, New York, a Satmar Hasidic group that was involved in a battle with the town in 2009 over construction of a synagogue is again at odds with town officials.  As reported by the Hudson Valley Times Herald Record in January, the Town Board voted in December, by a split vote, to extend the boundaries of the Kauneonga Lake Sewer District. This is the first step in plans by Kollel Averichim Torah Veyirah to tear down several old bungalows and build two multi-family housing units on a 5-acre parcel near their synagogue.  Some 87 residents filed a petition for a public referendum on the extension.  Subsequent developments are traced by the Narrowsburg, New York River Reporter yesterday. In May, a state court held that the referendum petition was filed after the required deadline.  Opponents then circulated a petition opposing the expansion and obtained some 200 signatures.  They proposed to present it to the Town Board at its August 27 meeting.  However, that meeting was scheduled for Saturday, which meant because of the Jewish Sabbath, Kollel members could not drive to the meeting, and if there, could not use microphones to present their views.  So the Kollel again went to court, and a state court judge issued an order prohibiting the Town Board from discussing the matter in any way at the Aug. 27 meeting. This, however, did not prevent one of the town's residents, during the public comment period, from reading the letter that was to accompany the petition.

At the board meeting, Councilperson Denise Frangipane did discuss the court order, complaining that the town did not choose to fight it.  She said: "We live in a secular society which respects all religions and the right of people to practice the religion of their choice freely. However, religious considerations do not overrule our civil legal structure."