Sullivan County Judge Frank LaBuda takes a tour of the shul and community center in Bethel.
BETHEL — A Supreme Court judge likely will decide early next year whether the Town of Bethel violated a Satmar Hasidic bungalow colony's rights and broke its own rules when it denied sewer service to a future residential development on 17B — a case Bethel's supervisor previously said the town probably couldn't win.
Kollel Averichim Torah Veyirah sued the town last month after three town board members at a Sept. 14 meeting denied a sewer extension for future homes on Schultz Road, where the group planned to build a small housing development.
That move came after the town first conducted an environmental review and approved the extension in 2010, after finding no detrimental environmental impacts and that the sewer treatment plant had adequate capacity.
Afterwards, opponents gathered signatures but were late in filing a petition and then exerted pressure on the board to rethink the decision.
Residents expressed concerns about traffic and that the environmental review wasn't adequate.
Three board members — Denise Frangipane, Robert Blais and Richard Crumley — voted to deny the extension. Supervisor Dan Sturm and Vicky Simpson opposed reversing the board's original approval.
The lawsuit asks Judge Mark Meddaugh to order an extension of the sewer line to the parcel, which is across the street from a synagogue, damages and attorney's fees, and a judgment that the board violated their property rights.
Jay Zeiger, the colony's attorney, said the case should be resolved quickly in the new year. "There are no issues of fact" he said.
The lawsuit alleges the board bowed to "political pressure" and some residents appeared to oppose "further growth by the Orthodox Jewish Community."
Zeiger said he was unsure if the group was a victim of ethnic or religious discrimination.
"I certainly hope not because that would be inappropriate," he said. "There was no reason stated for rescinding. They were totally silent."
The colony is affiliated with the United Talmudical Academy, which had a highly publicized standoff with town officials in the summer of 2009 over the rapid construction of a synagogue, and later started a petition drive targeting town board members.
The town hasn't yet filed a response to the complaint and a town attorney handling the case couldn't be reached for comment.
In January, Sturm told the Times Herald-Record: "Our attorney said if you turn it down without a good reason, you could get sued and lose. So we have an obligation to avoid lawsuits and protect the taxpayers, especially if is the right thing to do."