Developer starts first two houses in 431-unit Chester project as bias lawsuit continues
CHESTER - Workers started building the first two homes in the 431-unit Greens at Chester development this week after the developers and town officials resolved some disputed issues, even as they continue to wage a federal court fight over the project.
The town building inspector issued permits for a pair of attached homes on Sept. 8 after the Greens at Chester LLC posted an $11 million bond for future infrastructure work and the town posed no objections to the proposed size of the homes, as it had with previous applications for fully detached houses.
Livy Schwartz, one of the developers, said this week he was relieved to begin building houses and optimistic about fully resolving the court case he and his partners brought last year.
The Greens at Chester housing construction site on Friday.
"I think both sides want to get this thing over with and find a good resolution," Schwartz said.
The developers sued the Town of Chester in July 2019 for $100 million in damages, alleging that town officials had denied them building permits and made unusual demands in an illegal attempt to block what they believed would be a Hasidic community. State Attorney General Letitia James later joined the case in support of the home builders, agreeing the town had acted with discriminatory motives.
Disputing discrimination charge
Chester officials dispute that charge and insist their only goal has been to hold the developers to the approved size limit for homes and other agreed-upon terms, as they would for any other builders.
"None of this is anything other than following the terms of the agreement and filing the proper paperwork," Town Supervisor Robert Valentine said on Friday.
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Valentine said the town issued its first permits because the builder's plans for the attached units met the size restrictions and the newly posted bond covered the cost of all remaining infrastructure, which had been another sticking point. Each duplex unit is allowed to have a footprint of up to 1,750 square feet, he said.
Valentine said of the still-pending lawsuit: "We've been diligently working toward a resolution to the legal matter."
The developers bought the 117-acre development site for $12.1 million in 2017, inheriting approvals for a project that the town granted in 2013 after a lawsuit with the previous owner. The plans consist of 237 single-family houses and 194 duplex units, to be built in five phases. The property is off West Avenue and Conklington Road, and next to the Whispering Hills condominium complex.
The entrance to the Greens at Chester housing construction site in Chester, on Sept. 18, 2020.
The town and developers continue to dispute how large the fully detached homes can be. Town officials contend the total size cannot exceed 2,500 square feet, while the developers argue the town contrived that restriction to deter Hasidic home buyers with large families. Their proposed model homes ranged from 2,500 to 3,400 square feet.
The lawsuit is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Philip Halpern in Manhattan, with the two sides disputing when the town must turn over documents that the developers' attorneys have requested. On Friday, lawyers for the Greens at Chester submitted a letter to Halpern arguing that the town's attorneys were improperly delaying the release of those firstname.lastname@example.org