The Camp La Guardia #property: #KiryasJoel v. Orange County, Chester and Blooming Grove

Orange County and three municipalities sued by Kiryas Joel to stop redevelopment plans for the Orange County-owned Camp La Guardia site have petitioned to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging that Kiryas Joel has no stake in the property five miles from its borders and no cause to contest prior to a legitimate development proposal being offered.

Kiryas Joel commenced a lawsuit in October 2016 against Orange County, the town and village of Chester and the Town of Blooming Grove, in which the 258-acre former homeless shelter campus is located. Kiryas Joel seeks to have the court void the Town of Chester’s rezoning of 60 acres of the subject property last year and prohibit any further action in connection with the property until an environmental impact statement has been completed to assess the effects of future development.

In its motion to dismiss the complaint, the municipalities argue that Kiryas Joel has no standing to sue as it neither borders Chester nor Blooming Grove, is not near the Camp La Guardia site, and does not own the property at issue. The municipalities also contend the complaint would be premature even if Kiryas Joel had standing, given that no development plans have yet been submitted.

“At best, there is one rezoning, of one section of the property, by one locality unrelated to the Petitioners (Kiryas Joel),” the defense attorneys stated. “No larger plan has been agreed to or contemplated.”

Kiryas Joel Administrator, Gedalye Szegedin, argues in response that the future use of the property is already established given that Orange County officials have announced plans for an industrial park and the Town of Chester rezoned accordingly. “The fact that specific tenants for the industrial park have not yet been announced does not make this project speculative from a SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] perspective,” Szegedin wrote, referring to the state law to “establish a process to systematically consider environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies.”

The Camp La Guardia property has been at issue for at least a 10 years as Orange County paid New York City a sum of $8.5 million for the 1,000-bed shelter and surrounding land it owned in February 2007. In 2009, Orange County contracted with a Westchester County developer to purchase the property, but nothing materialized given Orange County’s failure to ensure appropriate sewer service. Finally, Orange County paid $1.2 million to cancel the contract in 2016, hoping to attract businesses to the property.

Kiryas Joel tenuously asserts that it has legal standing to commence litigation because potential sewage from the Camp La Guardia site could curtail available capacity for Kiryas Joel at its own treatment plant and the Orange County plant in Harriman. Orange County and the municipalities reason that no sewage from the future development of the site would affect the Kiryas Joel or Harriman plants provided that a new treatment facility be built on the site.

Kiryas Joel also contends that rezoning the property to allow only businesses would unfairly burden the village with providing affordable housing for the region since the prior development plans for Camp La Guardia included 807 apartments and houses.

Orange County counters the foregoing argument with Chester’s prior office park zoning for the property, which prohibited housing. Dubbing the case a “political grievance” aroused by Kiryas Joel in return for the court challenge that Orange County and eight municipalities — including the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove — brought to contest Kiryas Joel’s annexation of 164 acres. Orange County’s lawyers stated that “litigation is not a place for settling scores.”

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