Goodbye 2023

Our Greatest Hits – Important Stories We Reported In 2023

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As we phase out of 2023, we think back on a year’s worth of reporting. Here are highlights from a riveting year. 

Second Circuit Reinstates $10 Million RLUIPA Suit Against Clarkstown, George Hoehmann, And CUPON Over Grace Baptist Church Debacle

Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy Wins Appeal; RLUIPA Suit Against Town Of Clarkstown Remanded Back To District Court

courtofappealsDecember 8,2023 – In a blow to the Town of Clarkstown and a local activist group, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan reversed the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York’s dismissal of a lawsuit that had accused the Town of Clarkstown, Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann and CUPON (Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods) of interfering with a yeshiva’s contract to purchase a church in Nanuet and of violating the Academy’s religious rights.

The Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s dismissal of Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland’s $10 million case and remanded it back to the District Court for further proceedings. In its original suit at the District Court in White Plains, Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland claimed it was thwarted in its efforts in late 2018 and 2019 to acquire the Grace Baptist Church site in Nanuet for use as a girls’ yeshiva. Read the full story…

Application To Expand Mosque Property Challenges Clarkstown’s R-160 Conservation Zone

Residents Are Demanding a “Positive SEQRA Declaration” From Town Planning Board To Study A Host Of Potential Harms

Long Path ClarkstownDecember 7, 2023 – With numerous environmental concerns in question, including negative impact to wildlife and biodiversity, the presence of the bald eagle, disruption to an historic walking trail and a threat to core forest at a time when climate change is a pressing concern, a proposal by the Islamic Center of Rockland (ICR) to build more than 30,000 square feet and add more than 200 parking spots in one of Clarkstown’s remaining mountaintop conservation zones clearly calls for deep environmental study – or more technically a “positive SEQRA declaration.”

But whether the Clarkstown Planning Board agrees to truly have this site studied objectively by external experts, and not just rely on the applicant’s findings, as is often the case, remains to be seen.

In a packed house on Wednesday at the Planning Board’s first public hearing on the proposed project, mosque congregants, who came early and packed the heart of the chamber, made pleas for why the house of worship needs more space for a gymnasium and meeting rooms. At the same time, residents from Mountainview Avenue, Christian Herald, Central Nyack, and Clarkstown at large unanimously spoke up against siting an enormous development that will disturb nearly seven acres of a sensitive ecology at the highest elevation along Mountainview Avenue. Those addressing environmental and traffic safety concerns, including residents who’d sent in a stack of letters to the Planning Board in advance, outlined worries over increased traffic on the dangerous serpentine two-lane road, additional flooding on a road already challenged with constant runoff, sheeting rain, ice, noise and light pollution, loss of habitat, and obstruction to the viewshed, and interference with the Long Path, an historic trail that runs from the GW Bridge to the Adirondacks. Read the full story…

Efforts To Establish Two New Hasidic Villages In Hudson Valley Meet Obstacles And Litigation

Timing Of Passage Of An Amendment To the Village Incorporation Law May Derail Efforts Underway In Orange And Sullivan Counties

Village Of Ateres - Sullivan CountyNovember 1, 2023 – Two upstate Hasidic communities are each trying to form new villages in Sullivan and Orange counties but proposed legislation modifying the 150-year-old law that establishes the mechanism to create a village could derail these efforts. The bill, written by Senator James Skoufis, has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting a trip to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk for signature.

The law, if signed, could have implications for the proposed villages of Seven Springs in the Town of Monroe in Orange County and the Village of Ateres in Sullivan County.

The bill would increase the minimum population requirement for village incorporation to 2,000 from 500 persons who are regular inhabitants, a number where it has stood for decades. Also, before a village can be established, a study must be conducted on the fiscal, service and taxation interests of the population to gauge if the maintenance of the village is fiscally viable. That study must be filed with the Department of State and posted on its website for a minimum of 90 days. The law would still require the votes of at least 20% of the residents “qualified to vote” for town officers to start the proceedings to become a village. Read the full story…

Could Rockland County’s Fallow Campuses Take A Page From Industry City In Brooklyn?

Rockland Is Filled With Old Buildings And Vacant Campuses That Could Be Transformed Into Successful Redevelopments

Industry CityOctober 30, 2023 – On a recent Saturday, I drove an hour from Rockland County to a pop-up home design show held at Brooklyn’s Industry City. The design show was meh; the real thrill was the discovery of a decade-long industrial redevelopment project that has brought a winning combination of industry, office and makers’ space, co-working, retail, food halls, and entertainment to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park waterfront neighborhood.

I spent the day weaving in and out of the alluring complex with a goody bag’s worth of amusement and delight but as I headed back to our greener pastures, I found myself wondering why we can’t do more with the large, often fallow campuses in our county that have sat idle for years or are giving way to warehouse development.

Sure Industry City is in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is, well Brooklyn, but it sets an example. Industry City is a former manufacturing site that has been transformed into a working hub, a destination, a magnet for pedestrian traffic and tourism, an example of taking something historic and making it relevant again. I’m thinking about the former Pfizer campus in Pearl River, the Garner Arts Complex in Garnerville, the Letchworth campus in both Haverstraw and Stony Point. Even the HNA Palisades Training Center on Route 9W in Orangetown. Read the full story…

City Winery Mogul Planning Hotel/Hospitality Project At Former Milk Factory In Walden

Orange County Plan Led By Michael Dorf Is An Adaptive Re-Use Aimed at Attracting Tourists To Upstate Hotel, Restaurant, Winery & More

Milk FactoryOctober 25, 2023 – Music impresario and the titan behind City Winery is slogging through the bureaucratic quicksand needed to greenlight plans to rehabilitate a former milk factory and give it new life as a boutique hotel and hospitality magnet on the Orange-Ulster counties border. Though the approvals process is slow and frustrating, the Hudson Valley developer is betting his adaptive re-use project will have a long shelf-life.

“The process has been slow,” said Michael Dorf, who purchased the ghostly remains of the former Borden milk factory at 2860 Route 208 in Walden two years ago for $575,000 under a limited liability company, CWMD LLC. “We don’t have full approvals from the town [of Montgomery], but we’re very, very close.”

He’s hopeful – and as he says, “never more excited” about a project.

The Milk Factory, as it will be called, is a passion project for Dorf, 60. He is planning to maintain the existing footprint of the former factory and use original brick to construct a two-story building that will house a restaurant, spa, gym, winery, gallery, event venue, and co-working space on the ground floor, and a 50-room boutique hotel on the second story. A key asset to the planned proposal is its proximity to the adjacent Walden-Wallkill Rail Trail, which will be connected by a spur to the hotel. Read the full story…

Antisemitism & Prejudice In Rockland County Impacts Real Estate, Development, Quality Of Life

The Social Fabric Of Our Beautiful County In Ripping Apart – By Paul Adler

Paul Adler - Rand CommercialOctober 23, 2023 – As an inductee of the RC Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2019 and a nearly 50-year member of the Nyack NAACP, I felt compelled to write this column with emotion and passion.

Rockland County is a beautiful and diverse community but it has become plagued with growing antisemitism and racial prejudice in recent years. Going back in time, we know about the ugly history of slavery that existed in Rockland in Haverstraw and the shameful examples of segregation highlighted in the famous 1943 US Supreme Court case involving the Hilburn Main School that impacted Black and Indigenous peoples. That case brought a young civil rights attorney from the NAACP by the name of Thurgood Marshall to Rockland who used his victory in Hilburn as precedence eleven years later in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Schools are segregated because neighborhoods are segregated. Segregation happens because prejudice and hate are tolerated and initialized by law. This kind of destructive behavior is learned and passed down to the generations. It’s a social disease that also affects business, commerce, and our quality of life. Read the full column…

Rockland Green Is Becoming A Juggernaut — Why It Should Matter To You

The Story Of Robert Moses Tells Us Why Unchecked Power Is Dangerous

The Power BrokerOctober 8, 2023 – Around page 675 in Robert Caro’s doorstop of a book The Power Broker, the subject of his tome Robert Moses is finally, after decades, on the cusp of his first major defeat. The book – a lesson to some on the utter abuse of power, a guidebook for others who crave it – shows how Moses kept his beat drumming for as long as he had unflinching support from politicians, other power brokers, an unquestioning press corps, and an underinformed public.

This is a well-worn playbook that marches on until it doesn’t. It works when jobs are meted out, taxpayer spending is rationalized, fear is used as a cudgel to oppress those who might speak out. It works when the press doesn’t do its job. It’s working here in Rockland County.

Public authorities can be useful. They manage all sorts of municipal functions. But when they begin to overstep, to misuse their power, to manipulate and dissemble, they bring trouble to their doorstep. It may take time before a public authority unravels, but the question is how much time and at what expense? Read the full story…

Orangetown Relinquishes Power Over Future Of HNA Training Center Redevelopment

New York REIT SL Green To Take Ownership Of HNA Palisades Training Center; Town Hoping REIT Will Negotiate With Tapped Developer Reveil

HNA Training SL GreenAugust 3, 2023 – The Town of Orangetown has relinquished its role in trying to steer future development on the HNA Palisades Training Center site.

The Town in late July voted to withdraw its efforts to take the 106-acre site by eminent domain. Specifically, the board withdrew the “EDPL (Eminent Domain Procedure Law) Determination and Findings,” ushering in the latest era for a prospective sale and redevelopment of the site. Only now, it is SL Green, the New York-based REIT, and not HNA, that owns the property.

The case arose from effort of an affiliate of SL Green to confirm an arbitration award it secured for $185 million against HNA Group (International) Company Ltd., and collect that debt against HNA’s assets.

This latest development caps a two-year effort on the part of the town to recruit and work closely with a developer to reimagine the site on Route 9W, which has largely turned fallow and blighted since HNA shuttered the hotel during the pandemic. Over time, the Town’s hopes were constantly dashed as HNA seemed unwilling to come to terms with selling the property to Reveil, two California developers who’d won the town’s bid to name a development team after an extensive bidding process to tap the right team. Read the full story…

Acquisition Of Historic Bank Building Jumpstarts Non-Profit’s Dream To Create A Borscht Belt Museum In Ellenville

Borscht Belt Fest Offered A Cultural Preview In Gentrifying Catskill Mountain Region; Former Nevele Resort To Become Luxe Hotel and Condo Development

Borscht Belt Museum Ellenville, NYJuly 31, 2023 – As small-town street festivals go, the Borscht Belt Fest in Ellenville last weekend was a profoundly sentimental and stirring event, particularly for scores of greying baby boomers whose seminal life experiences were molded and cemented in upstate Catskill hotels and summer bungalow colonies that defined Jewish life for most of the mid-20th century.

Everywhere during the furnace-hot day, conversations were peppered with memories of bungalow days, waitressing at hotels like the Nevele Resort, the Pines, or Grossinger’s, anecdotes of life-long friendships that started during those summers. There was joy and giddiness alongside a collective sense of loss and nostalgia for what once was — an era lost to airline transport, assimilation, and changing lifestyles.

The Borscht Belt Fest wasn’t just a look back – it was staged to ignite future interest in Ellenville, which is slated to become the home of the Borscht Belt Museum in 2025. The festival gathered memorabilia and ephemera and performative art from the bygone era to tease what is coming. The day-long street fair included themed tee-shirts, a pickle vendor, Brooklyn Seltzer, and other novelties that nod to Jewish life. Read the full story…

Tiny Sparkill Becoming Big Destination For Serious Food Scene, Rivaling Piermont & Nyack

Momentum Builds As Small Hamlet Serves Up Food Concepts Including A “Speakeasy”, Takoria, A New Market And More

roostJuly 16, 2023 – f you didn’t have a GPS, you might feel as though you inadvertently stumbled into a charming but weathered European Village with a small-town square surrounded by a mélange of temping eateries housed in a jumble of historic buildings.

But this is Sparkill, Orangetown’s newest foodie draw with atmosphere to boot.

The hamlet of Sparkill, once thought of as a sleepy place – or not given much thought at all – is becoming a magnet for creative food and beverage concepts, building on pioneers who started the wave more than a decade ago. Now, there’s momentum with a growing number of restaurants to make the hamlet a destination. Read the full story…

Application For Massive West Haverstraw Warehouse Advances; Developers To Submit DEC Documents, Scale Model, In May

Landowner/Developer Eric Bergstol Plans To Build A 454,000-Square-Foot Distribution Center On Beach Road; Site Is Close To Peck’s Pond Park, Joint Regional Sewage Authority, and A Proposed Warehouse Conversion Site For A County-wide Animal Shelter

West Haverstraw WarehouseApril 16, 2023 – An attorney representing a landowner/developer who wants to build a massive warehouse/distribution center in the Village of West Haverstraw on Beach Road told Village planning officials on Wednesday it plans to submit a scale model of the project and DEC remedial recommendations next month.

Attorney Matthew Liponis of Whiteman Osterman and Hanna LLP of Albany told village officials the applicant had been waiting to complete its application with New York State because the proposed project requires an environmental cleanup and capping of the former construction landfill.

Applicants Eric Bergstol, a local landowner, and New Jersey developer Efrem Gerszberg have been working with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to determine the scope of cleanup and remediation needed on the 34-acre vegetative site sitting in the crook of Railroad Avenue and Beach Road. The site, owned by North Rockland Associates since 1969, was an active construction landfill through the mid-1990s, according to Bergstol. Before that the site was a clay pit quarry used when Haverstraw was a brick-making center. In 2019, the North Rockland Associates site was transferred to a new entity, Grassy Point Bend LLC, owned by Bergstol.

The North Rockland Associates site, as it was known, is listed on the NYSDEC’s Solid Waste Site Mitigation and Remediation Priority List. Read the full story…

I’ll Have A Mocha Latte With A Side Order Of Historic Preservation

Starbucks To Rise Where 1825 Frame House Will Be Razed In Nanuet

historic houseMarch 6, 2023 – Canarsie, a Brooklyn neighborhood that reclaimed swampland around Jamaica Bay, was a hodgepodge of 1960s two-family homes made of wood or brick. By anyone’s standards, the neat tree-lined streets where I grew up had neither the charm of old historic towns filled with Colonials or Victorians, nor did it have the eye-popping suburban architecture that either preserves or mimics the best of American architecture.

All my life, I was drawn to historic buildings and had the privilege to live in a pre-war beaux-arts co-op on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for many, many years.

Nearly 20 years ago, I landed in Rockland County. Yeah, I bought that old house that I saw as a palette of possibility and mostly everyone else viewed as a money pit. The one only a naïve city girl could fall for. I’ve loved and nurtured it from day one. Read the full story…

Town Of Haverstraw Agrees To Settle With Orthodox Congregation After It Slaps Town, Planning Board With RLUIPA Suit

Town Will Pay $235,000 To K’Hal Bnei Torah Of Mount Ivy To Resolve Controversy Over Application To Convert Single-Family House To Place of Worship

Haverstraw Town BoardFebruary 14, 2023 – We’ll never know if the Town of Haverstraw Planning Board was on sound legal ground when it denied the application from K’Hal Bnei Torah of Mount Ivy to convert a single-family home into a house of worship at 62 Riverglen Drive in Thiells. We’ll also never know what actually motivated three of the five members of the Planning Board to vote “No” on a resolution recommending approval of the conversion.

Whatever their motivation was in denying the application, it resulted in a federal lawsuit against the Town, the Planning Board, and its members Glenn Widmer, Joseph Michalak, and Robert Sambrato, claiming they had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Read the full story…