Schenley Vital

Chair of Rockland Democratic Committee Sues Village of Nyack Over Denial of Permit To Build Dormitory Style Co-Living Clubhouse

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Schenley Vital Asks Court To Reverse Nyack ZBA’s Decision Rejecting His Proposal To Construct A Co-Living Clubhouse

By Tina Traster

Schenley Vital and his clubhouse entity Casa Lajas LLC have filed suit against the Village of Nyack over a land-use dispute that will force a reckoning on the definition of what is a “clubhouse” and whether a clubhouse with four dwellings would be permitted in a two-family residential zone. The suit, filed in late March in Rockland County  Supreme Court, alleges the Zoning Board of Appeals and its Chief Building inspector have illegally denied him a building permit to construct a four-story, multi-family clubhouse at 11 Fourth Avenue in Nyack that would include four dwellings and common spaces.

The Village maintains that “clubhouses” in the TFR (Two Family Residential) zone do not permit sleeping quarters.

Vital, in his Article 78 lawsuit, is asking the court to “annul and reverse” a February 26 Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) determination rejecting his application to build his project. The Village Building Inspector Manny Carmona determined that “clubhouses,” which are permitted uses by Special Permit in the Village’s TFR zone, do not allow “sleeping units or dwelling units.” The ZBA affirmed that determination.

Vital, who lives in Central Nyack and is the Chair of the Rockland Democratic Committee, attempted a similar but much larger project in Central Nyack in the Town of Clarkstown in January 2023. The Clarkstown Zoning Board in that municipality rejected his proposal, saying a community living-style proposal was not permitted in Clarkstown’s R-22, or half-acre residential zones.

Vital’s lawsuit spends considerable ink on the argument that the Village of Nyack’s code does not define “clubhouses,” and that the code says that lacking a definition, reference should be made to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The dictionary defines clubhouse as a house occupied by a club or used for club activities. He then looks elsewhere in the dictionary for the definition of house, which is “a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families.” The crux of his argument is that when Merriam-Webster defined a clubhouse, and chose to use the word “house” rather than “building” it implied that a clubhouse could be residential. Essentially he alleges that the word “house” as part of “clubhouse” defines the term to include dwelling units.

The zoning code use table separates types of uses in TFR zone. Clubhouses are listed in the “Public and Institutional” use category. What’s permitted by special permit are the following: Clubhouse, community center or place of worship; daycare center, child or nursery school; nonprofit ambulance facilities. None of these allow for residential uses. The only exception is an apartment “accessory” for non-profit ambulance facilities. In that instance, the Village Code recognized a residential component accessory to the permitted use. The code is otherwise silent on apartments as accessory uses to clubhouses.

Vital, who owns a single-family house at 11 Fourth Avenue,  wants to house Casa Lajas Clubhouse, in a four-story structure with four dwelling units, a fitness center, a game room, communal kitchen, and various other rooms for socializing and other activities. The applicant said Casa Lajas is organized for the “benefit of its members and community.” In its findings at the ZBA hearing in February, the Nyack Zoning Board said, “the plan for this housing was still in its early stages, and he (the applicant) could not advise, under questioning, as to the type of residency (transient, monthly, rental or other) that would be available at the site under his business plan.”

Vital bought the building for $635,000 in 2022. In July 2023 applied for a permit and use variance to construct an eight-family dwelling on the site. The request was subsequently withdrawn and a new application to construct the “clubhouse” was submitted.

According to the application filed with the Village, the clubhouse, a dormitory style co-living space, would provide residents with a private bedroom in a furnished suite with shared common areas.  Vital described his co-living model as “popular in high cost locales as a means of affordable living.” His lawsuit says that the Village’s “focus on the character of the neighborhood is an egregious and indefensible interference with Petitioner and its members’ rights to housing considering the surrounding properties.” In the suit, he describes the neighborhood as “substantial multifamily developments” mostly in the nearby Waterfront (WF) zone.

This is not Vital’s first foray into communal or co-living. In 2023, Vital tried to convince Clarkstown’s Zoning Board of Appeals that a 25,000 square foot congregant living facility he wanted to build in Clarkstown in its R-22 Residential Zone was really just a “single family home.” Vital applied to build the facility on a 4.34 acre lot he owned at 1 Cindy Land in Central Nyack.  In that case, then-ZBA Chair Kevin Hobbs told Vital his application was just a “cloak” to build a multi-family structure as a single-family house in the Town of Clarkstown.

In that application, Vital described the project as a “congregate glebe house” and defined his members as “the functional equivalent of a traditional family” living in a single-family home. The appeal to the Clarkstown ZBA was unanimously rejected by the Board.

Also in the suit against the Village of Nyack, Vital accuses the Village ZBA of capitulating to “racist and discriminatory fearmongering by residents” and the continuance of an historical pattern of exclusion and segregation by the Village of Nyack.

Vital alleges the Zoning Board’s decision to discuss the “character of the neighborhood,” served to reinforce traditional racist and discriminatory ideology of “Not in My Backyard” and equating affordable housing to low-income minorities. Vital’s suit said  the Village of Nyack has “a well-documented history of displacing and segregating its residents of color.”

The lawsuit asks the court to annul the decision of the ZBA and issue him a Special Permit for his clubhouse. Vital is also seeking compensatory damages of $104,500, punitive damages of $1,045,000, attorney’s fee of $44,000. A hearing on Vital’s petition is set for April 26th at 9:30 before Justice Thomas Zubige.

The Village of Nyack had no comment but plans to hire outside counsel through its insurance company to defend the suit.