Lawyers for a proposed yeshiva are appealing Briarcliff Manor’s denial of a special permit to operate a school for up to 350 college-age men on the former Pace University campus.
Representatives for Monsey-based Yeshivath Viznitz Dkhal Torath Chaim are before the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals in an effort to overturn the decision by village Building Inspector David J. Turiano or seek a variance.
Turiano’s Nov. 4, 2022, denial states that the yeshiva’s application doesn’t meet village code because the 37-acre campus at 235 Elm Road is located in a residential zone on what the state Department of Transportation classifies as a local road and not a state, county, arterial or collector road.
That stipulation was put in the village code adopted in spring of 2021 regarding special permits to ensure that residential neighborhoods retain their character.
The congregation’s attorney, Daniel Patrick, responded by requesting a waiver from the village’s Board of Trustees, stating in a Nov. 15 letter that the board’s application of land use regulations “has imposed, unintentionally or not, a substantial burden on Yeshiva Viznitz and the exercise of religion.”
Patrick also reminded the board of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (known as RLUIPA), the federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.
Village Attorney Joshua Subin’s Nov. 28 reply defended Briarcliff Manor’s handling of the application, denying implications that the yeshiva had been singled out during the process.
Subin also stated the Board of Trustees was not authorized to grant a waiver, and countered Patrick’s discrimination charge.
“RLUIPA does not allow the Yeshiva to unilaterally decide to ignore a local zoning requirement and then to use its own silence as a sword against the Village,” Subin wrote.
ZBA hearings begin
At the Jan. 9 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the five-man board heard Patrick argue that the portion of the village code used by Turiano to deny the permit was ambiguously worded and that the ZBA had the authority to render an interpretation.
The stretch of Elm Road where the campus is located should be defined as a collector road instead of local road, Patrick argued. Other parts of Elm are classified as collector roads, which collect and distribute traffic while providing access to abutting properties.
Chairman Christopher Bogart said the ZBA could potentially render a decision concerning the interpretation of village code related to the denial at its Feb. 6 meeting. If that decision upholds Turiano’s denial, the yeshiva’s lawyers could then seek a variance. If the ZBA overturns Turiano’s decision, the matter would go back before the Board of Trustees. The meeting would also continue the ZBA’s public hearing on the matter.
Questions and Concerns
The Hasidic Jewish congregation purchased the property for $11.5 million in March 2021 and began applying for the special permit that June, outlining plans to use five of the campus’ nine buildings to accommodate their students, most of whom would live on the premises.
Its lawyers repeatedly pointed out that Pace had accommodated more than double the number of students, and were repeatedly told that comparing their proposal to Pace’s 1978 usage was invalid under current circumstances.
During several public hearings before the Board of Trustees, officials requested more specifics from the yeshiva, and neighbors voiced concerns over the safety of vacant buildings, student supervision, crowds at special events and loss of tax revenue.
Some residents pointed out the controversy over the congregation’s purchase of the former Nyack College campus, which was a catalyst for the dissolution of the Village of South Nyack. Some trustees visited the congregation’s Monticello campus but have not yet issued a report.