Clarkstown Prevails in Lawsuit Filed by Religious School

By Joel Grossbarth

A State Supreme Court Judge in Rockland has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a religious school against the Town of Clarkstown involving the now defunct sale of the former Grace Baptist Church property in Nanuet. Supreme Court Judge Robert M. Berliner dismissed the claims of Ateris Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland against the Town of Clarkstown which sought to compel the Town to issue a building permit and further to allow a hearing before the zoning board of appeals to obtain a variance for the maintenance and use of a religious school.

In August, 2018 Ateris Bais Yaakov contracted with Grace Baptist Church to buy the Church’s property on Demarest Avenue in Nanuet. Following the execution of the contracts, many local residents complained about the proposed purchase, claiming the religious school would substantially alter the character of the community and lead to an increase in traffic and safety issues. In December, 2018, Ateris Bais Yaakov submitted a building application to Clarkstown seeking to make improvements to the property. The Building Department denied the application and instructed Ateris to file an application with the zoning board of appeals to obtain necessary area variances. On March 8, 2019, an application was initially submitted to the zoning board of appeals, but was incomplete as a survey was missing. On May 7, 2019 Ateris finally submitted the requested survey.

The closing of the transaction was scheduled to take place on May 16, 2019, but Ateris failed to appear at the closing. Later that day, Grace Baptist Church notified Ateris in writing that it was terminating the contract for failure to proceed with the closing. Later that same day, Grace Baptist Church notified the Town of Clarkstown that the contract was terminated and revoked its consent for Ateris to submit any land use applications. The Town then refused to hear or entertain Ateris’s applications.

Town Supervisor George Hoehmann then publicly stated the Town had interest in purchasing the Grace Baptist Church property. Ateris filed a lawsuit against Clarkstown seeking to, among other things, compel the Town to issue the building permit and/or hold a zoning board of appeals meeting.

Judge Berliner dismissed Ateris’s lawsuit claiming that Ateris lacked the requisite standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place. The Judge held that once Grace Baptist Church terminated the agreement based upon Ateris’s default in closing and revoked consent to submit applications, Ateris had no legal capacity to maintain its claims. Judge Berliner did let stand Ateris’s claims of violation of the Freedom of Information Law, but for all intents and purposes Ateris’s claims against Clarkstown are over. In a written statement issued by the attorney for Ateris, Yehudah Buchweitz, Esq. stated that Ateris, “while disappointed with the ….decision, the fight is by no means over, including because the court determined one of [Ateris’s] claims would proceed and Clarkstown needs to answer for it, and because [Ateris] will continue to pursue the balance of its claims in appropriate courts.”