The Village of Airmont and its Building Department take any violations of the Village Code and/or state building codes seriously. While the rights of property owners must be recognized and balanced, the Village must prioritize the public health, safety and welfare of its residents. The Village is aware of the code enforcement issues with 4 Lee Drive (“Property”) that have been the subject of recent news articles and provides the following update to residents.
The 4 Lee Drive Property had been previously approved by the Village as a residential house of worship. However, shortly after the approval for the residential house of worship, changes were made to the Property that removed the residential component from the structure. As is currently configured, the structure cannot be a proper residential house of worship as there is no residential component. The Property is currently owned by Congregation Bais Medrash of South Monsey (“Congregation”), a New York religious corporation that was formed in 2020.
Involvement of Village Planning Board Chair
Various statements have been published concerning Planning Board Chair, Yehuda Friedland and his involvement with the Property. Since the statements concerned the potential involvement of the Planning Board Chair in the activities at 4 Lee Drove, the Village requested that legal counsel review the matter.
The most recent deed document transferring the 4 Lee property from Joshua Halle to Congregation Bais Medrash of South Monsey (“Congregation”) is dated February 14, 2021. When a property is transferred in New York, a Real Property Transfer Report form (known as an RP-5217) is completed and filed along with the deed to the property. In this case, the RP-5217 tax form associated with the transfer of 4 Lee Drive listed Mr. Friedland’s name as the Buyer’s contact.
In order to determine his involvement, Village legal counsel interviewed Mr. Friedland concerning this matter. Mr. Friedland advised counsel that he was a member of the Congregation and when the religious corporation was formed, he had authorized the Congregation to use his home address as the mailing address for the Congregation. However, Mr. Friedland also advised that, as a member of the Congregation, he does not have any ownership interest whatsoever in the property, nor does he have any authority, supervision or control over the activities of the Congregation that owns the property. Mr. Friedland advised that he does not hold any corporate position in the Congregation and his involvement was solely limited to being a member of the Congregation and allowing Congregation mail to be received at his home address. There has been no information received by the Village that the Mr. Friedland had any involvement in the work activities at the Property or that he was involved in any manner in directing or participating in any of the work that occurred there resulting in the notices of violation.
Information published by others that Mr. Friedland signed the deed or that his name is on the property deed was not accurate. Mr. Friedland’s name does not appear on the deed for the property at all. A deed is only signed by the seller of the property (not a buyer). Mr. Friedland’s printed name appears only on the RP-5217 tax form that is filed along with the deed and lists him as a buyer’s contact. Mr. Friedland’s signature does not appear on any of the filed documents. The deed and the RP-5217 form were signed by the seller, Joshua Halle who also signed as a “Trustee” on the Buyer signature line on the RP-5127 form. Mr. Friedland advise legal counsel that he first became aware of the violations alleged on the property when a story was published in a local news article.
While the Village has not received any information that Mr. Friedland has any ownership interested in the Property, the Village trusts that, as a member of the Congregation, he would appropriately recuse himself from consideration of any planning board application from the Congregation moving forward.
Code Enforcement Violations at 4 Lee Drive
On October 12, 2022, Notices of Violation were issued to 4 Lee Drive concerning part of lot being cleared, leveled and graveled for a parking lot without a site plan or permit and the modification of the impervious area. A Notice of Violation was also issued regarding the change of the use to a neighborhood house of worship without special permit or application to the planning board. On November 8, 2022, additional Notices of Violation were issued regarding significant work that had been performed in the premises including adding doors, removing bathrooms, removing walls, installing electrical, etc.
Generally, when a violation is reported/observed, the initial step by the Building Department is issuance of a Notice of Violation, allowing a property owner a period of time to correct or address the violations alleged. The initial goal of the Village in code enforcement cases is to bring a property into compliance with the cooperation of the property owner. The initial Notice of Violation is not a process that brings a property owner into justice court, but rather the notice allows for correction of the violation(s) before resorting to formal processes. Once the time for correction has passed without the violation being addressed, the next step is issuance of an Appearance Ticket, which lists the violations and directs the property owner or his/her representative to appear in Justice Court to answer charges.
With respect to 4 Lee Drive, the time period for the property owner of 4 Lee Drive to correct and/or address the conditions in the Notices of Violation has passed without addressing the matters in the Notices of Violation. As a result, on December 20, 2022, the Village Building Department issued appearance tickets to the Property concerning the violations that had been previously alleged in the Notice of Violation.
These appearance tickets will bring these matters before the Village Justice Court where the matter will be addressed whether by compliance of the owner or prosecution of the charges. The Village did receive an email from the property owner on December 1, 2022 indicating that plans were being prepared for a CDRC meeting regarding the Property. However, as of the date of this statement, no such application or plans have been received by the Village. Also, as of approximately one week prior to this statement, no work was ongoing at the Property.
The Village will continue to monitor this situation and will continue to address conditions in the Village that concern the health, safety and welfare of our residents.