Attorney General’s office warns Sullivan County town of potentially illegal discrimination against Hasidic development

The letter comes amid a yearslong legal battle over Lost Lake Resort, a proposed development that seeks to house 2,600 homes.

NY Attorney General Letitia James at an ADL summit. Credit: Shtetl

Apr 25, 2024 2:25 PM


The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter last week asking the supervisor of the Sullivan County town of Forestburgh to change a recently imposed zoning ordinance that might illegally discriminate against a Hasidic Jewish development, while also warning that the process that led to the law’s adoption might have violated government transparency rules.

The zoning ordinance, Local Law 3, created requirements for religious institutions that are stricter than the requirements for buildings used for secular purposes, wrote Jill Faber, the Chief Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs. The letter cites the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that, among other things, prohibits zoning laws that discriminate against religious institutions.

“Local Law 3 appears to violate state and federal law by discriminating against religious uses,” Faber wrote. “And the adoption of Local Law 3 raises concerns about Forestburgh’s compliance with the Open Meetings Law.”

The letter comes amid a yearslong legal battle over Lost Lake Resort, a proposed development that seeks to house 2,600 homes in Forestburgh, a town near the Catskills, in an area where there is a growing year-round Haredi community. The Hasidic owners who bought the land in 2020 have sued the town twice, arguing in both cases — with support from the Haredi organization Agudath Israel of America — that it made changes purposely designed to keep Hasidim out. The lawsuits are both ongoing.

Dan Hogue, the town supervisor, to whom the letter was addressed, told the Albany Times-Union he believed the zoning law was not discriminatory. He said Lost Lake Resort has been the subject of 13 lawsuits, “nine of which have been judged in the town’s favor.”

“The zoning does not specifically call out any race, religion or anybody,” Hogue told the outlet. “To call it that (discriminatory) it just reeks of political undertones given the current lawsuits brought on by this developer. ... I believe it’s just politically motivated by a developer.”

The Attorney General’s letter also warned Hogue that, before the ordinance was passed, a copy of it should have been made available to the public at least 24 hours before town leaders discussed it.

“We request that you promptly review Local Law 3 make any amendments needed to

comport with state and federal law,” Faber wrote. “We further ask that you provide our office with any proposed amendments resulting from your review before their enactment.”

Matis Rutner, also known as Abe Rutner, a leader at the Sullivan County Jewish Community Council, told Hamodia he was happy to see the letter. 

“We are glad that the New York State AG has looked into the what has transpired in the town of Forestburgh,” Rutner said. “Together with the Justice Department, who has written to the judge concerning the Lost Lake law suit, we expect the township to conduct themselves in compliance with the law and treat us without any discrimination.”