Village and developer to face off in court over housing density

Each side of the nine-year-old BT Holdings case believes it can win

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  • Mary E. Marzolla, Esq., of Feerick Lynch MacCartney & Nugget, representing the Village of Chester (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Russell M. Yankwitt and George C. Godfrey of Yankwitt LLP, representing BT Holdings (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

By Frances Ruth Harris

— The trial date is June 13, when the years-long battle between BT Holdings and the Village of Chester over housing density will head towards its conclusion — or at least a crescendo.

Several months ago, Judge Elaine Slobod instructed the BT Holdings developer, Frank Nussbaum, and the village to meet and discuss a settlement. But a settlement never came to pass.

The twists and turns in the nine-year-old BT Holdings saga include a change of mayors along the way, with each viewing the mega-project from different points of view. Former Mayor Phil Valastro supported the annexation of 60 of BT Holdings' acres from the town to the village, and he also supported higher density for its development of townhomes. The current mayor, John Bell, wants to keep the lower-density zoning the property had when it was still part of the town, which limited development to single-family houses. The village recently zoned the area to limit BT Holdings' density and to allow for a technology overlay.

The village will allow Nussbaum to build 120 single-family houses, not the 340 townhouses he's been requesting since the annexation five years ago.

Each side is convinced it can win.

Russ Yankwill, attorney for BT Holdings, sent the following statement via email to The Chronicle:

"The Court recently denied the Village's latest attempt to dismiss the case and postpone the trial and we are now scheduled for a trial in June 2017. While BT Holdings remains hopeful that the Village will change course and resume settlement discussions, we are ready for trial and if we are unable to settle in advance, we are confident that a reasonable jury will hold that the Village unlawfully breached their agreement with BT Holdings and that a jury will not only allow BT to build the property as it requested, but a jury will award BT several million dollars in damages. To be clear, however, BT would prefer working together with the Village to build a project that everyone can be proud of and benefits the community, but if the Village is unwilling to sit down and discuss an amicable resolution, BT is confident it will prevail in Court."

Mary Marzolla, attorney for Chester Village, sent the following statement via email:

"The Village is pleased the Court once again found that 'there was no express provision in the stipulations among the parties obligating the defendants to adopt an RM-N (Residential Multifamily Neighborhood) zone.' Mr. Nussbaum knows it doesn't and testified that no one from the Village guaranteed him RM-N zoning or any zoning amendment. In his own words, Mr. Nussbaum testified 'Nobody had the power, nobody made that guarantee.' Mr. Nussbaum also testified no one ever promised him any specific land use approvals or a specific unit count for the project.

The Village continues to look forward to having an Orange County jury hear Mr. Nussbaum's claim that the Village had an obligation to adopt RM-N zoning even though the stipulations don't say that and he testified that no one guaranteed him any zoning amendment by any date. We believe that an Orange County jury will find that what he failed to obtain in writing cannot be obtained by bullying litigation tactics."

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