Chester is being hijacked by attorney general, town lawyers say

Chester. Attorneys say NYS Attorney General Letitia James wants to force the town to bend to the developer's unrealistic demands, and immediately grant the Greens of Chester developer any and all approvals for his project, while refusing to hear the town’s position. Discrimination charges cannot be ameliorated through noncompliance with town or state code, they say.

24 Dec 2019 | 11:36

The Town of Chester's lawyers say the New York Attorney General has hijacked the town by using litigation to benefit a private developer.

Mary Marzolla and Patrick Knowles want Judge Cathy Seibel to deny the attorney general's motion. In attorney declarations submitted to Judge Seibel on Dec. 19, they say NYS Attorney General Letitia James wants to force the town to bend to the developer's unrealistic demands, and immediately grant the Greens of Chester developer any and all approvals for his project. Marzolla says the attorney general refuses to hear the town’s position.

James is intervening in the Greens' $100 million federal discrimination lawsuit against the town. When announcing the intervention earlier this month, she said she's "taking action to fight discriminatory housing practices that the Town of Chester and Orange County have utilized to prevent members of the Jewish community from moving to Chester."

James filed a motion against the town and county alleging they have engaged in a "concerted and systematic effort to prevent Hasidic Jewish families from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of a housing development."

Marzolla says in her declaration that she repeatedly tried to communicate the town’s position but received no response from James or any of her representatives.

Time is a big factor, Marzolla says in the statement, including gathering a town board quorum on very short notice. Meanwhile, she said, the attorney general’s representative continued to press “for an admission as to when the Town could respond to the request for permission to intervene.”

Marzolla says again and again that the town is being hijacked into compliance. She states:

“The NYAG’s dismissal of the foregoing issues, the failure to give the Town an opportunity to be heard prior to making the decision to intervene, and the failure to provide any details so the Town could make an informed, thoughtful determination on the request all indicated that the NYAG’s predetermined course was set, no meaningful conferral or consent 'request' was intended, and the NYAG only wanted to be able to report to the Court that it purportedly sought the Town’s consent prior to making the motion; the NYAG neither intended nor was willing to engage in a good faith discussion of the merits of the request, to give the Town an opportunity to be heard, or even to fully inform the Town as to exactly what it was asked to consent to.”

Developer Livy Schwartz told The Chronicle that the attorney general's office will reply on Dec. 31, so there is no need for him to comment on the matter now.

Lawsuit stymies land preservation effort

Marzolla says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the Greens' litigation as a reason to veto the Town of Chester’s Preservation Development Law. Cuomo supported other towns and villages in their preservation development efforts, but vetoed the same law in Chester, she said.

She also said Greens tried to "pull a fast one" by dropping off an unsolicited check without any approval or agreement, as required by town code. A $1,676,990 cash deposit for a security renewal agreed upon six years earlier was delivered “at the eleventh hour," she said.

Marzolla says the developer was trying to cure a defect for which there was no cure, and was only throwing up red herrings that muddied the waters while bypassing code. The town lacks the authority to set aside the law for a private developer’s benefit, she said.

Marzolla says discrimination charges cannot be ameliorated through noncompliance with town or state code. She said the Greens wants to build larger houses than either town zoning allows or set out in a 2010 court settlement agreement. Also, she said, the Greens does not want to comply with infrastructure regulations. When the town failed to take action on the Greens' application, Marzolla said, “No allegations of religious discrimination were made or at issue there.”

Furthermore, Marzolla said, the attorney general cannot legally support housing that will serve Hasidic Jewish families exclusively.

“To be sure, residency at The Greens must be available to persons of all races, sexes, ethnicities, and religions," she said.

Schwartz, the developer, has repeatedly said the Greens was open to everyone.

Marzolla said the attorney general's job is to assist New York citizens, not benefit a for-profit developer.

“This Court should deny the NYAG’s unprecedented and unsound efforts to intervene," she said.