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Kiryas Joel Files Suit To Halt A Second Proposed Casino

Less than two weeks after filing suit to halt a proposed casino project in one location, an Orange County village has filed a second lawsuit pertaining to another casino proposal in the county.

The Village of Kiryas Joel filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Woodbury town and village officials, Caesars Entertainment and partner Flaum Management and others, alleging failure to consider the environmental impact of a casino project. Paul Larrabee is spokesman for Kiryas Joel.

“Asserted in the suit is that there were commitments made by the Village and the Town of Woodbury that exceeded simple community support for the project,” Larrabee says. “They included commitments of specific resources, and it is those commitments and those agreements that require the study and the assessment of the environmental impacts of a proposal and other actions under the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act.”

Village of Woodbury officials did not return a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Town of Woodbury officials declined to comment, saying they had not had a chance to fully review the suit. Again, Larrabee.

“There are specific agreements to provide resources in the way of potable water and wastewater treatment capacity, in some cases, in excess of 200,000 gallons per day that would trigger the need for an environmental impact review and an assessment as to the impact on the surrounding area,” says Larrabee.

The suit alleges that in addition to the impact on water resources and sewer infrastructure, the project would also mean increased noise, traffic, odors and light pollution.

Caesars spokeswoman Jan Jones Blackhurst, in an emailed statement, says, quote, “It is unfortunate that the Village of Kiryas Joel is seeking to circumvent the will of the people in an attempt to block economic growth, tax revenue and new funding for schools in Orange County and throughout the State of New York. Litigation, without merit like this, seems to be the weapon of choice for Kiryas Joel when it comes to progress and development - we are not the first project they have tried to intimidate with baseless lawsuits and we presume we won't be the last.”

Orange County is also named in the suit, and County Attorney Langdon Chapman says, quote “We disagree with the lawsuit and will defend against it.” He issued a similar statement for the lawsuit Kiryas Joel filed in mid-August seeking to halt Cordish Companies’ and Penn National Gaming’s casino proposal in South Blooming Grove.

Daniel Estrin is an environmental law professor at Pace Law School in Westchester County.

“It’s not entirely clear and I guess the question is, I guess it comes down to in what form was the support expressed,” says Estrin.

He says if it’s a general statement of support, possibly with stipulations and an understanding that the full State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, process would be undertaken if the proposal were chosen, that might be acceptable. However, Estrin says other forms of support could be problematic.

“Certainly if any of them have made a decision like finalizing a new zoning for an area or entering into an agreement with a project sponsor, those are discretionary actions that should require compliance with SEQR,” says Estrin. “And to the extent that they’re trying to sort of have their cake and eat it, too, get the agencies to agree to certain things, whether it’s in some type of memorandum of understanding or a zoning change or something like that, and not comply with SEQR, the plaintiffs may very well be correct that there’s been a violation here.”

The murky area, Estrin agrees, is when the state environmental review process should begin – if and when the project is selected, or before. That, he says, will depend on each municipality’s actions and agreements with the developer.

Kiryas Joel is not the only entity that is suing over proposed casinos in Orange County. In July, an attorney representing more than a dozen residents filed a lawsuit against the Town of Tuxedo, alleging the town board skipped an environmental review prior to a 4-1 vote in June adopting a gaming overlay zone. The suit does not, however, name the casino developer behind the proposed Sterling Forest Resort – Genting Americas.

Meanwhile, Larrabee says Kiryas Joel will not be filing suit against any other proposed casino projects, as no others would impact the largely Hasidic Jewish village. In November 2013, Kiryas Joel voters overwhelmingly opposed the statewide proposition on casino gambling in New York. The state can issue up to two casino licenses for the Catskills/Hudson Valley region; one in the Capital Region.

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