By Joe Kuhn
CUPON of Chestnut Ridge has filed a lawsuit against the village board of trustees, challenging a proposed law that would change the zoning codes for local houses of worship. The organization, which is dedicated to enforcing town zoning codes and fighting overdevelopment, filed a request for a federal injunction in April of this year and the suit is still ongoing. The Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Citizens United to protect our Neighborhood discussed the progress of their legal action along with several of their other projects during one of their regular meetings last Tuesday.
“Nothing the village proposes should be passed without scrutiny” said Hilda Kogut, the leader of her towns CUPON chapter. Their new lawsuit is targeted at a new zoning proposal drafted in large part by the Orthodox Jewish Coalition of Chestnut Ridge. The proposal, which had been unanimously approved by the board of trustees, would alter zoning regulations by allowing religious organizations to establish houses of worship on land holdings smaller than five acres. The current code prohibits such expansion, though the town board has made exceptions in the past.
CUPON is adamant that relaxing the law will inevitably lead to overdevelopment; they are especially concerned that the new legislation will result in places of worship being established in residential neighborhoods. Some members have alleged that proposed changes would in effect make almost every property in the village eligible to be zoned as religious space. Kogut explained that many issues could arise from an influx of people coming to private neighborhoods to pray, including an overflow of parked cars and rampant tree removal.
Kogut also spoke out against another proposed piece of legislation which would ban burials on residential properties. Because state law does not prohibit burials on private property, the town is working to create its own law that would outlaw the practice. However, CUPON’s members argue that the current proposal does not go far enough and in fact creates a loophole by which property owners can seek county approval to operate a cemetery. CUPON has stood firm in its stance that residential property cannot be used for such purposes, Kogut insisting that “it’s not my job to provide a burial site for my neighbor”. Many residents are concerned that allowing bodies to be buried on residential properties will lead to environmental contamination and have a negative effect on property values.
The meeting concluded after the members briefly discussed the village’s unsuccessful efforts to register and inspect rental properties. Kogut lamented that the town government has so far only inspected thirty one rental properties this year, despite repeated calls for better enforcement of zoning codes in an area notorious for violations.
Kogut urged her fellow CUPON members to attend government meetings and pressure their representatives to make progress on all of these issues. “I still believe people speaking out can make a difference” she told the group.