Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Catskills Annexation Appeal Deemed Untimely

(CN) - A local coalition challenged the annexation of land for a Catskills housing project too late, a New York appellate judge ruled.

Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen and their development companies have been pursuing a townhouse project in the Village of Bloomingburg since 2006, and they were able to get a piece of land annexed, which Bloomingburg and the Town of Mamakating both agreed to, according to this week's ruling.

Bloomingburg and Mamakating are rural communities in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and were two of the Borscht Belt vacation sports frequented by New York City Jews in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, an era later recalled by the movie "Dirty Dancing." Both municipalities are located in Sullivan County.

A group of Hasidic Jews filed a class action against the Sullivan County Board of Elections last month, claiming the board is trying to disenfranchise them by not allowing them to vote on housing, school and other projects.

The class action alleges that a group called the Rural Community Coalition was formed to oppose the 396-unit townhouse project after it was rumored to have drawn substantial interest among local Hasidic Jews.

"Simply stated, this action is not about borders, it is about development approvals given well after the annexation that the municipalities now regret granting, and which allegedly may have been obtained as a result of chicancery or worse conduct," wrote Judge John Lahtinen of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division.

In July, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of those opposing the townhouse project, holding that a local law authorizing the annexation was void.

But the appellate division reversed on Thursday, finding that the challenge to the local law allowing the 2006 annexation was untimely.

"We conclude that the challenge to the annexation - commenced over seven years after it was completed - is barred by the statute of limitations," Lahtinen wrote for a four-judge panel. "The developer defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' cause of action and the town's cross claims based upon the purportedly defective annexation should have been granted."

Mamakating's attorney said in a statement that the town will appeal Thursday's decision.

"On behalf of the Town of Mamakating, we are very disappointed in the court's decision. In particular, the court did not address the primary issue in the case, which is that the state constitution explicitly states that there shall be no annexation of territory until a special election is held for the voters who reside in that territory," Mamakating Town Attorney Benjamin Gailey said. "The constitutionally mandated election was not held in this case. We intend to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals."

Lahtinen addressed the special election issue in Thursday's ruling, saying that it does not represent "an ongoing or continuous wrong."

"Here, the failure to conduct a secret ballot of residents on the annexation gave rise to a single, discrete wrong, which could have been challenged in a timely fashion," the judge wrote.

Mamakating officials are also disputing the March 18 election of a Hasidic Jew to the Bloomingburg Board of Trustees, citing voter fraud. Aaron Rabiner beat incumbent Katherine Roemer for one open seat and the county elections board certified those results Wednesday, according to a Jewish Political News & Update report.

A town press release says the elections board failed to implement the purge of 250 voters who were clearly not residents in time for the election.

"At this point, the Village of Bloomingburg, which falls within the Town of Mamakating, will be taking the next steps necessary through legal action to overturn the invalid election, in order to protect the democratic process and preserve the integrity of governmental institutions," said Mamakating Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann in a statement Friday.

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