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AG James settles real estate dispute: ‘Keep Kosher out?’

Orthodox developers from Brooklyn faced Orange County stonewall

June 21, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The New York State Attorney General’s Office on Friday announced that it has reached agreements with Orange County and the Town of Chester to end their use of what the AG’s Office says are discriminatory housing practices designed to prevent members of the Orthodox Jewish community from moving to Chester, N.Y. 

The town had sought to block a housing development known as The Greens at Chester that was backed by a group of business partners from Brooklyn, identified by the local Times-Record Herald as Yehuda Landau, Samuel Landau, Lipe Meisels, Alter Bittman, Yanke Rochlitz and Yoel Goldman. 

The partners listed their business address as 65 Steuben St., near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

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In October 2017, the developers of The Greens purchased a 117-acre property in Chester, which had been fully approved for residential development under the ownership of the previous developer. In 2018, News 12 said that the development “is expected to draw thousands of new neighbors from Brooklyn.”

The AG’s Office charged that “since the purchase of the property in 2017, officials from the town repeatedly sought to block development of the site and openly expressed discriminatory intent to block the development at public town meetings — explicitly referencing their desire to keep Hasidic families out of the community.” 

Additionally, according to the AG’s Office, the town passed a law to restrict the size of the houses that could be built “in an attempt to make them uninhabitable for families.” The town also advanced proposals to levy extra taxes on the development, to limit the hours that construction could occur on the site, and to require the developer to provide the personal information of its managing partners to local officials. In addition, the town also mandated that a new sewer waste line be rerouted.

In 2019, while the controversy was ongoing, the Facebook page “A Better Chester,” backed by the developers, posted, “Contrary to a persistent myth, the Greens at Chester is not a development exclusively `for Hasidic Jews.’ As we have stated many times before, ANY person interested in purchasing a quality-built home with modern finishes, amenities and open space is welcome at the Greens.”

In May 2020, Attorney General Letitia James intervened in the lawsuit filed by the developers of The Greens at Chester, alleging that the town and county engaged in a concerted and systematic effort to prevent Hasidic Jewish families from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of a housing development.

“The discriminatory and illegal actions perpetrated by Orange County and the Town of Chester are blatantly anti-Semitic, and go against the diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance that New York prides itself on,” said AG James.

The agreements announced on Friday mandate that Orange County and the Town of Chester must enact numerous policies to uphold fair housing regulations, including:

  • Full compliance of the Fair Housing Act;
  • Adopting outreach measures that disseminate information about fair housing to communities;
  • Administering fair housing trainings to county and town employees working in housing or planning;
  • Appointing a fair housing compliance officer; and
  • Documenting and reporting of all housing discrimination complaints to the Office of the Attorney General.

“Not everybody understands the gravity and pervasiveness of bias against Hasidic Jews,” said Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, who went to Brooklyn College and New York Law School. “Not everybody appreciates that the growth of the Hasidic community is cause for celebration, not discrimination.”

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