We invite Assemblyman Schmitt to hear our side of the Greens at Chester story

15 Jan 2020 | 12:11

Editor's note: The following letter to NYS Assemblyman Colin Schmitt is dated Jan. 8. It was written in response to Schmitt's letter to NYS Attorney General Letitia James, which was published in last week's Chronicle under the title "Please visit us, Attorney General James."

Dear Assemblyman Schmitt,

I write to point out a number of inaccuracies in your letter to Attorney General Letitia James about the Greens at Chester’s federal lawsuit against the Town of Chester.

You write that the Attorney General’s proposed intervention in the lawsuit “threatens local zoning authority.” The opposite is in fact the case. We are suing the Town precisely because it has imposed unlawful restrictions on our project that are outside the parameters of the zoning code . Our lawsuit aims to uphold the zoning code and the principle of equal treatment of all persons under the law.

You state that the project “has had long term opposition from the local community, dating back over two decades when the project was under different ownership.” But it is no defense of illegal conduct to say that it has a long pedigree, and you overlook the fact that Town officials have openly confessed that their policies have been motivated by the indefensible aim to “keep the Hasidic out” and “alleviate 432 Hasidic houses in the Town of Chester.”

“Preserving the rural character of the Chester community” is a worthy aim, but that aim is not undermined by our building legal dwellings on our fully approved residential lots. After the Greens is built, Chester will still have thousands of acres of forest and farmland, and over 70 acres of the Greens itself will be preserved as permanent open space. In any event, a worthy aim by itself is not grounds for denying property rights. (See the Third, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.)

A number of people who purport to oppose our project in the name of rural preservation have engaged in ugly, discriminatory rhetoric about Hasidic Jews and revealed that (at least for them) preservationist arguments are but a pretext for darker motives.

Most striking in your letter is your statement that there has been “significant housing discrimination" in your district and “consistent, pervasive violations of both federal and state law” that have been ignored — a “reality that has only been exacerbated by the recent legal actions taken by (the Attorney General’s) office.” You do not say what this discrimination consists of, what it possibly has to do with the Greens at Chester, and how the Attorney General makes things worse by addressing the important public issues implicated by the Greens at Chester case.

We invite you and your staff to visit our offices and our building site and hear our side of the story. We encourage you to speak widely with your constituents, many of whom want to see growth and dynamism in Chester and Orange County along with new housing options for themselves, their neighbors, and the next generation. It is not a zero-sum game.

Livy Schwartz

Greens at Chester