Wawarsing sued in federal court by Jewish summer camps – Daily Freeman
WAWARSING, NY —- A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of several Jewish summer camps against the town of Wawarsing accuses a 2021 zoning law amendment of unlawfully and discriminatory “targeting” these camps.
The lawsuit, filed in December in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, says the amendment confines the camps to an area called an “overlapping zoning district to clearly distinguish Orthodox Jewish camps from similar secular uses like conference centers, so “camp” regulations would not apply to secular uses.
The federal complaint was filed by New York Bota Sefer & Mesiftas Inc, Birchos Shomayim of Kasho Inc, Camp Mesifta Inc, Congregation Machneh Rav Tov Inc, Yeshiva Beth Yitzchok D’Spinka, Talmud Torah Ohr Moshe, Bais Chaya Esther Inc, Talmud Torah Ohel Yochanan and Bnos Jerusalem D’Chasidei Belz Inc. against the city.
A first conference on the case is scheduled for Thursday, March 10 at the Federal Court in Albany before Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel.
In a press release, Storzer and Associates, the law firm representing the nine plaintiffs, says the new zoning violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use Act and Institutionalized Persons and New York law.
Orthodox Jewish summer camps have been operating in Wawarsing “for over 70 years and constitute by far the majority of camps in Wawarsing. The plaintiffs… all own properties in Wawarsing where they run Jewish summer camps. … The complaint alleges that for years the city harassed Orthodox Jewish camps and obstructed development, and that the harassment reached a crescendo with the passage of new zoning laws specifically targeting Orthodox Jewish camps,” according to the statement. Press.
The problem, in part, is whether summer camps qualify as “places of worship,” the lawyers say.
According to the lawsuit, “the purpose of the impugned laws is to impose severe restrictions on Orthodox Jewish camps, thereby preventing the opening of new Orthodox Jewish camps, limiting the expansion of existing Orthodox Jewish camps and making current use extremely difficult. and impractical”.
Unlike a secular summer camp, religious camps are educational in nature, the suit says, since “Orthodox Jews typically send their children to religious day schools near their homes ‘during the school year and during the summer’.” usually send their children to religious schools“. night summer camps that allow them to pursue their religious studies.
Reached by phone, Jeffrey Kaplan, who initially served as local counsel on behalf of the camps in the case, said the disputed law affects not just the Jewish camps, but “every camp and anyone considering to open a camp at Wawarsing. But he said the law targets Jewish camps because the majority of the city’s camps are Jewish “and the story is clearly what it is.”
In 2020, Kaplan said, when New York State decided there could be no statewide overnight camps during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaplan said Wawarsing camps, ” especially the Jewish camps, set up an operation in several of the camps as a day camp so that they did not violate state rule.
He said the city immediately sought a court injunction to close the camps, but was unsuccessful. “The city was not happy with that…so in October they then passed a moratorium – a moratorium on the zoning code – which prohibited any construction or any application before the planning board for any commercial use, knowing that it would have an impact on the Jewish camps,” Kaplan says.
He added that there is “no doubt in my mind” that the law was created to target Jewish camps. “This is just a culmination in which the legislation passed was really intended to prohibit the camps from any type of expansion, renovation or even new location in the town of Wawarsing.”
Among the most egregious provisions of the law, Kaplan said, were restrictions on the distance between bunks, the number of campers and staff in each bunk, and the distance of the camp from neighboring property.
“[If they’re] 70 feet from any adjoining property, they have to build a non-transparent fence for them to be fenced in, also called a ghetto,” he said.
Referring to the fence, the lawsuit states, “The city does not require even the most intense land uses permitted in the city, such as mining operations, to erect completely opaque fences around their operations. … The plaintiffs’ Orthodox Jewish camps for children pose no comparable risk to the health or safety of extractive mining operations, for which the city needs only temporary fencing.