- Rich Klein
Town of Forestburgh Hit With Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit by Lost Lake Holdings
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Plaintiffs Allege Anti-Semitism Is Behind Town's Blockage Of Housing Development
FORESTBURGH - A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on Friday by Lost Lake Holdings LLC and Mishconos Mazah LLC that accuses the Town of Forestburgh, its Town Board and Zoning Board of Appeals plus key town officials of anti-Semitism and alleging "they have engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal actions to block Orthodox Hasidic Orthodox Jews from moving to the Town. "
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that the defendants violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the U.S. and New York Constitutions, and New York law when they blocked construction of some 2,600 homes in the Lost Lake development.
The Town officials named as defendants in the case are Town Supervisor Daniel
S. Hogue, Jr., Town Planning Board Chair Richard Robbins, Town Building Inspector Glenn A,
Gabbard, and Town Assessor Dennis Ketcham.
"Defendants’ actions were motivated by anti-Semitic religious and racial animus
from Town officials and pressure from local residents to whom such officials were responsive," the suit alleges. "They feared that Hasidic Orthodox Jews would purchase homes and reside in the Project. This religious and racial animus predated Plaintiffs’ purchase of the Project, has continued since, and has impeded the ability of Hasidic Orthodox Jews to move to the Town. "
The SullivanTimes emailed Hogue for comment early Monday.
The federal suit is the latest in a string of lawsuits filed by the company against the Town since 2020. Those cases, which include tax disputes and an Article 78 filing, are pending in State Supreme Court . As of mid-November, the parties were involved in "global" settlement talks, but Steve Barshov, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said today that the parties could not reach an agreement.
According to a news release from two law firms that filed the federal civil rights suit: "Prior to selling Lost Lake to the current Hasidic Orthodox Jewish owners, the Town granted the original non-Jewish developer (Double Diamond of Texas) all the necessary approvals."
The law firms of Storzer & Associates, P.C. and Sive Paget Riesel P.C. said in their news release that , "in 2011, the Town Board rezoned the 3.3 square miles of land owned by Double
Diamond, a Texas developer, to authorize 2,557 single-family homes, along with cottages and
townhouse-style condominium units, for a total of 2,637 residential units, along with multiple
recreational and community amenities. In 2013, the Town Board granted Double Diamond final subdivision and site plan approval for the first phase of the Project, consisting of 400 single-family home lots and the first nine holes of the project’s golf course."
Lost Lake LLC purchased the property from Double Diamond in July 2020.
Barshov, co-counsel for the plaintiffs said:
“This developer bought the Lost Lake project because the prior owner had obtained all
the approvals needed so building permits could be issued at any time and homes built. The only reason home construction is not occurring is because Town officials have made it crystal clear: Hasidic Orthodox Jewish developers and homeowners are not welcome in Forestburgh.”
Eric W. Treene, another attorney for the plaintiffs, added:
"Federal civil rights laws, the Constitution, and New York law all speak in one voice on
the central issue of this case: in America no government may tell people where they are welcome to live and where they are not based on their religion. This has become an all-too-familiar experience for Orthodox Jews in many New York communities, and it must end.”
The suit seeks an injunction from the federal court requiring the Defendants to treat the
plaintiffs equally without regard to religion, as well as an award of compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.
In 2014, town officials joined the original developer at a ribbon cutting ceremony following permit approvals in 2013 to give Double Diamond a green light to build.
According to a report in the Times Herald-Record at the time, Double Diamond started to install water and sewer lines and building roads.
But Double Diamond abandoned the project after selling just 150 housing lots.
Enter Mordechai Halberstam, a developer from Rockland County (lead principal for Lost Lake Holdings LLC) , who in 2020 paid $13.3 million for the land and related assets. The purchase reportedly included mortgages Double Diamond held on 60 undeveloped housing lots that had been sold.
The lawsuit alleges that , in November 2020, the the town building inspector issued a building permit to plaintiffs’ contractor to allow Lost Lake LLC to construct one single-family home within Phase 1 of the seven-phase Project.
But, thereafter, "all additional building permit applications filed on behalf of Plaintiffs for construction of single-family homes in the Project were denied by the Town Building Inspector and the denials were affirmed by the Town of Forestburgh Zoning Board of Appeals (the “ZBA”). "
Below is a screenshot from one of the pending lawsuits in State Supreme Court.