Haverstraw Planning Board Rejects Application for New Shul Without Comment
By M.C. Millman
After a six-month delay in voting on K'hal Beni Torah's application to convert a single-family home into an Orthodox Jewish shul for the Thiells's neighborhood, the Haverstraw Planning Board rejected the application without comment on Wednesday, August 10.
The town Planning Board voted 3-2 to reject the application. Board members Joseph Michalak, Glenn Widmer, and Robert Sombrado voted no. In contrast, Chairman Sal Corallo and Anthony Gizzi voted in favor.
Supporters, including members of the synagogue, said they want to place of worship that's safe for them to walk to and from on Shabbos, and that a neighborhood facility fits the needs of their religious life.
The shul's application was to increase the size of the building with a 107-person occupancy while constructing a large parking lot and a retaining wall into conservation land. Over the last year, there were nine public hearings where residents said the Town denied local homeowners even minor variances for building into an expanse conservation easement.
The federal law RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) was designed to protect religious institutions from zoning law restrictions that would "impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution".
"Haverstraw will learn just like the others," Yehuda Zorger, Rockland Community Activist, tweeted. "Antisemitism has no place here, and it will cost their taxpayers millions and will then be approved."
Joel Petlin, Superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District and Rockland resident, tweeted, "Everyone was outraged by the Antisemitic comments made to the Haverstraw, NY Planning Board."
Petlin was referencing the 2021 Haverstraw public meeting, where resident Nick Collela received supportive laughter and applause for his comment that if he were to hit a Jew with his vehicle, he would "of course back over him again."
"Tonight, the Board voted to endorse that hateful message by rejecting an application for a Synagogue. They chose litigation over accommodation," continued Petlin. "It's shameful."
"Don't let anyone fool you," Chaskel Bennett, Community Activist tweeted. "This outcome was completely predictable. We've seen this show before. We also know how it ends. G-d bless America."