Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
January 22, 2010 Issue
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Dan Hust | Democrat

THIS SYNAGOGUE ON Schultz Rd. in White Lake has caused divisions in Bethel.

Building Department investigated in battle over synagogue

By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE — Bethel’s town board met Tuesday to privately discuss litigation over the synagogue/community building that’s now open on Schultz Road in White Lake.
The board emerged from executive session without taking action, but Supervisor Dan Sturm read a prepared statement indicating the litigation – and reverberations within town government – is far from over.
“We believe strongly… and will affirm this strongly the next time we are in court, the Schultz Road building should have had complete planning board review,” Sturm said. “In fact, had this planning board review taken place, we likely would not be experiencing the many problems we face today, or having this meeting.”
The 6,900-square-foot structure, owned by the United Talmudical Academy (a Hasidic group from Brooklyn), ran into problems with the township when Building Inspector Tim Dexter, acting on orders from Sturm, held up the granting of a certificate of occupancy.
Dexter had granted a building permit earlier in the year and considered the synagogue a principal permitted use, but Sturm – having received numerous complaints from residents – had looked at the Building Department’s file on the shul and found it lacking.
In particular, the town code stipulates that a community center (as opposed to a simple synagogue) must undergo planning board review.
“No ifs, ands or buts,” Sturm said yesterday.
That didn’t happen with this building, and amidst cries of anti-Semitism from residents of the bungalow colony that built the shul, Sturm had a stop-work order posted.
The owners sued the town, and Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda took a tour last Friday, noting some of the town’s concerns but ultimately granting a six-week ability for the colony to use the synagogue for religious purposes only.
He also told the owners to allow town engineers on site, though Sturm said that a religious holiday yesterday means the engineers won’t make an inspection until today or later this weekend.
In the meantime, the township is undertaking an investigation of more than half a dozen files in the Building Department related to a variety of properties, ostensibly to determine whether they need further review, though Sturm would not comment on that further.
Dexter, who has butted heads with Sturm on this issue and was a witness on behalf of the synagogue’s owners Friday, had not returned a call for comment at press time.
Sturm expected the town’s suit against the United Talmudical Academy over this matter to be heard in court soon, even though he hinted at some cooperation between the township and the property owners.
“We are still doing anything we can, including working with the owners, to ensure the safety of that structure,” he said.
And he made a promise at the end of Tuesday’s board meeting: “This kind of problem is never going to happen in Bethel again.”

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