The former Camp LaGuardia campus (Photo by Edie Johnson)
Email sent by Gedalye Szegedin
Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano said what follows is an email he received Feb. 8 from Village of Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and other Orange County officials also received it. “Contrary to your false statement in the newspaper today let me set the record straight, ‘KJ does NOT want to have war with everyone’, absolutely not. "Orange County and some of its municipalities are doing all the waring by throwing lawsuit after lawsuit against KJ in order to suppress the growth of the Kiryas Joel community by blocking us from having adequate Drinking Water, Sewer and Land to serve our internal growth needs, it’s that simple. All our lawsuits are just in “defense”. As soon as the County, Woodbury, Cornwall and Blooming Grove stop the lawsuits against our Water Wells and Annexation we will stop the lawsuit against the free water giveaway by the County. "Just a reminder for the record it was you as the Mayor of Middletown that spoke on behalf and voted for the resolution declaring war against the KJ Water project and bagging the County to stop issuing sewer permits to KJ developers and demanding the County to fight the KJ annexation, all without even verifying the facts or even a courtesy of a phone call, so please don’t claim victimhood when we must try to defend ourselves after you helped to initiate this fight, are we not even permitted to defend our needs in a court of law? Are we not even entitled to judicial oversight? "Again, have the county and others stop the lawsuits over KJ water and annexation all other “defense” lawsuits will go away.”
BY ERIKA NORTON
CHESTER — A judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Village of Kiryas Joel that challenged plans to rezone the 258-acre Camp LaGuardia site as an industrial park.
Days after that decision, village officials filed another lawsuit, this time over a deal between Orange County and the City of Middletown allowing the city to draw one million gallons per day from a reservoir on county-owned land.
Both cases have to do with developments within the county and what the Village of Kiryas Joel describes as their potential impact on the village’s water, sewer and housing needs.
Camp LaGuardia lawsuitThe first lawsuit was dismissed on Feb. 3 by State Supreme Court Justice Elaine Slobod. In the lawsuit, lawyers for Kiryas Joel argued that planned light industrial development of the Camp LaGuardia land — which is county-owned but located in Chester and Blooming Grove — would impact the wastewater treatment capacity of the sewer district and hinder needed residential development in the area.
Slobod ruled that the impacts KJ fear are “wholly speculative at this stage.”
The zoning adopted by the Town of Chester has zero present impact upon the sewer district, the ruling states, and does not result in a loss of residentially zoned property because the area was not previously zoned residential use.
“Obviously we're happy with the judge’s decision only because it helps actually move that property forward,” Chester Town Supervisor Alex Jamieson said. “We really didn’t think that there was much of a case because of the fact that our zone change was more cosmetic than anything else, because what we did was change it from office park to commercial. It wasn’t like we changed it from a residential to a commercial use.
“Hopefully now the property can start moving forward and start getting developed,” Jamieson said.
Justin Rodriguez, spokesperson for Steve Neuhaus, the Orange County Executive and formerly the Town of Chester supervisor, said Kiryas Joel should never have sued Chester or the county over Camp LaGuardia in the first place.
"The litigation was a waste and tied up forward movement on redeveloping that land," he wrote in an email.
Blooming Grove has still to rezone their section of the Camp LaGuardia site from residential to industrial park.
The property is within the Monroe-Woodbury School District.
New KJ lawsuitIn the latest lawsuit filed by Kiryas Joel on Feb. 6, the village claims the county’s agreement with Middletown to allow the city to draw 1 million gallons per day from the Indigot Reservoir on county-owned land was done without a proper environmental review, didn't take other municipalities' water needs into account, and violates the New York State Constitution.
The July 2016 deal ensured that Middletown would have enough water to supply to Amy’s Kitchen, a $95 million organic frozen meals processing plant approved for the Town of Goshen that will use Middletown water. Middletown will draw the water from the county reservoir at no charge under the agreement.
According to the suit, this deal was made “to facilitate the economic development of a particular business at the expense of the emergency water needs of residents of every other municipality in Orange County, including those in Kiryas Joel.”
Kiryas Joel has been under a water emergency since April 2016, a fact mentioned in the lawsuit.
The suit also claims the agreement between Middletown and the county is “a backdoor attempt to gift county resources to a private for-profit corporation,” a violation of the Gifts and Loan Clause of the state Constitution.
City of Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano called the lawsuit “frivolous.” He forwarded an email he received from Village of Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin on Wednesday, which was also sent to County Executive Steve Neuhaus and other Orange County officials (see sidebar for complete email).
“KJ does not want to have war with everyone, absolutely not,” Szegedin says in the email. “Orange County and some of its municipalities are doing all the waring by throwing lawsuit after lawsuit against KJ in order to suppress the growth of the Kiryas Joel community by blocking us from having adequate Drinking Water, Sewer and Land to serve our internal growth needs, it’s that simple. All our lawsuits are just in 'defense.” As soon as the County, Woodbury, Cornwall and Blooming Grove stop the lawsuits against our Water Wells and Annexation we will stop the lawsuit against the free water giveaway by the County.”
“His motivation is exactly what he stated in his email, which is to delay other projects in the county, and thinking that KJ has a right to every resource in this county and it’s just not true,” DeStefano said. “We’re prepared to defend the city’s rights and to fight on behalf of the city of Middletown residents and will do so in court or wherever else we have to.”
Rodriquez, the county executive's spokesperson, said "The Indigot lawsuit is just another attempt by the Village of Kiryas Joel to intimidate Orange County government and its taxpayers. It did not succeed in the Camp LaGuardia litigation and it will not fly in this case.”
This article has been updated to include the response of Justin Rodriguez, spokesperson for Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, received after the print edition went to press.