Attorney general settles housing bias claims against Town of Chester over 431-home project – Times Herald-Record

Posted By on May 7, 2021

CHESTER A federal judge approved an agreement on Friday between the state Attorney General's Office and Town of Chester that resolves another piece of the 2019 discrimination lawsuit by the developers of the 431-home Greens at Chester project.

The developers, who claimed the town obstructed their fully approved plans to try to prevent an influx of Hasidic families, already settled their case against the town in February and have been building homes since last year, with 22 now under construction.

But still pending before U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Halpern were the separate claims by Attorney General Letitia James, who had intervened in support of the developers to enforce compliance with the Fair Housing Act and other federal laws.

In the consent decree Halpern signed Friday, town officials deny any wrongdoing and insist they acted in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, while agreeing to take several steps to reinforce the town's commitment to the law and address future complaints.

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As part of the decree which remains subject to the court's oversight for three years the town promises not to interfere with the development or purchase of homes based on the buyers' "religion or familial status." It also pledges to adopt no housing laws or policies or makeany decisions about housing projects that discriminate on that basis.

The steps the town must take are fairly minor. Town Board members and certain town employees must take a training class on fair-housing rules each year. The town also must name one officialor employee to be Chester's "fair housing compliance officer," and post its fair housing policyand links to state and federal agencies on its website.

The Attorney General's Office can audit Chester's pending housing projects any time during the three years the decree is in effect. The town must detail in its Planning Board minutes how all such applications are handled, including the reasons for any conditions or rejections, and preserve any written complaints of discrimination.

The plaintiffs had bought the undeveloped, 117-acre Greens at Chester site off Conklintown Road for $12.1 million in 2017, four years after the town had approved the housing plans. The previous owner had slogged through the review process for years and fought the town in court before getting that approval, but never started construction.

The new developers sued Chester, Orange County and various officials less than two years later, alleging they were holding up the project to keep out Hasidic families and citing a litany of remarks at public and private meetings. The case sought $100 million in damages.

Neither the town nor county will pay any damages. The county and County Executive Steve Neuhaus settled with the developers last year, acknowledging no wrongdoing and agreeing to defer any further decisions about the site's water supply to state officials. The county still must complete a separate settlement with the Attorney General's Office.

Chester won a court case against its insurer last year that will require the company to pay the town's legal bills for the case. Town Supervisor Robert Valentine said Monday that those costs were approaching $400,000.

The developers brought the case after the town denied them building permits and gave two reasons: the proposed homes were larger than approved, and all infrastructure work had to be done before houses could be built. The developers disputed both claims and called them a pretext to try to stop the project.

Valentine, with the case now fully resolved, repeated on Monday the town's defense that it had simply tried to enforce the terms of the development approval.

"It wasn't a discrimination lawsuit," he said. "It was a zoning lawsuit."

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Attorney general settles housing bias claims against Town of Chester over 431-home project - Times Herald-Record

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