Dan Hust | Democrat
THIS SHUL ON Schultz Road in White Lake is at the center of controversy between the Town of Bethel and its owners, the United Talmudical Academy.
Bethel, shul files suit
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE The Bethel Town Board unanimously approved taking the United Talmudical Academy (UTA) to court on Wednesday.
A few minutes before the meeting, however, they got word the Hasidic group had beaten the town to it.
Today, the matter will be heard in Sullivan County Supreme Court in front of Judge Frank LaBuda.
According to documents filed with the township, the UTA is seeking the granting of a certificate of occupancy and a rescission of a stop work order pertaining to their 6,900-square-foot synagogue on Schultz Road in White Lake.
Though the Brooklyn-based group got a building permit, town officials say they’ve been denied entry onto the property to ensure all codes have been met and thus have not issued an occupancy certificate.
Nevertheless, the building is being used, as is the unpaved parking lot, which was supposed to be blacktopped before use began.
“We’re concerned for the safety of the people,” said Supervisor Dan Sturm. “... We can’t comfortably determine the safety of the structure.”
Today’s court session, however, will be about the UTA’s order to show cause. Bethel’s litigation to force access by the building inspector to the site, to stop any code-violating activities and pursue penalties against UTA will be heard sometime in the near future.
Wednesday’s board meeting featured little comment on the issue by board members, due to the pending litigation.
However, residents aired dissatisfaction and anger with both town officials and the local Hasidic population, including but not confined to UTA.
“What’s happening now is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Schultz Road resident Lillian Hendrickson, a neighbor of the new shul’s.
She took issue with reported claims that some colony inhabitants are labeling complainers anti-Semitic.
Other speakers, as well, decried accusations of anti-Semitism, saying they were simply concerned about unsafe activities, from occupying the unfinished synagogue to walking in the road to letting trash linger in visible areas.
“I am Jewish by birth and by practice, and I must say I am appalled,” White Lake resident Carole Abramson said. “… They pay no attention to any law. I can’t believe it wasn’t stopped in its tracks.”
Indeed, as many speakers complained about the town’s response as they did about UTA’s, arguing that the building department was not proactive enough in stopping obvious code violations.
“I’m kind of ticked at the inspector,” Schultz Road resident Timothy Crumley affirmed, anticipating that the new shul is here to stay, regardless of how many violations might be found within.
“We just don’t have any [code] enforcement here,” added White Lake resident Jennifer Teitelbaum. “Everybody knows that this is just a place for a free-for-all. There is really something wrong here.”
“These people are just laughing at you,” Hendrickson said to the board. “…They don’t care about our laws.”
Councilman Dick Crumley, however, said the town can’t just close the building down.
“It has to go before a judge,” he explained. “We’re working with the tools we have to work with.”
“We are not allowed to fine them,” said Sturm of code violators. “We issue appearance tickets.”
Councilman Bob Blais added that the building department has increased its enforcement efforts townwide, claiming summonses and violation notices have been up 50-70 percent.
Still, acknowledged Councilwoman Denise Frangipane, “it’s a flawed process.”
And the board didn’t know what would happen if a judge assessed a fine and it was ignored.
“We’re going to do anything we can legally to defend ourselves,” promised Sturm.