ORANGETOWN − The Ramapo-based religious congregation that operates schools at the former Nyack College campus pleaded not guilty Tuesday to fire and safety code violations before an Orangetown justice.
The attorney for the congregation − Yeshiva of Viznitz D'Khal Torath Chaim − and the town prosecutor told the judge work continues toward curing unsafe conditions and violations across the 107-acre campus in South Nyack. The congregation also is seeking town permits for the construction work already done and for use of several buildings, the attorneys said.
Tuesday marked the congregation's initial court appearance after an Orangetown inspector issued violation charges. The congregation's next court appearance is set for Jan. 10.
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Orangetown charges remain against congregation
Orangetown inspectors issued the congregation six charges − chiseled from dozens of violations notices.
Progress has been made, prosecutor Elizabeth Brancati told Justice Richard Finning. The six charges center on the congregation lacking certificates of occupancy for buildings and building permits.
"Four of the charges have had significant progress," Brancati said. "The occupant is making an effort to apply for permits."
She declined to recommend any fines Tuesday.
Finning is considering the following six charges filed by code enforcement officer Domenic Miano:
Operating an elementary school and a day care without the proper certificate of occupancy during an inspection on Sept. 6. The school operated on the basement of the Boon Campus Center at 1 South Blvd. while the day care facility operated on the first floor.
Installing multiple toilets near existing showers without first obtaining a building permit at the Moseley Hall, 106 Highland Ave. The inspection occurred Sept. 22.
Removal of cooking ranges and installation of two open pedestal-type gas burners in the kitchen without a building permit at the dining hall.
Installing wall air conditioning units without a building permit.
Replacement of lighting fixtures building without first obtaining a building permit at the Boon Campus Center.
Using a building as a dormitory without a certificate of occupancy. The inspection took place Sept. 6 at 102-106 S. Highland Ave.
Congregation vows to cure violations
Attorney Joseph Churgin, representing the congregation, said the violations could be resolved within 60 days as the congregation is working with the town inspectors and authorities.
Churgin told the judge the congregation inherited many violations in the buildings when it bought the property. The Hasidic Jewish congregation bought the sprawling campus for $45.5 million in late 2020 from the Missionary Alliance, which ran Nyack College for decades.
Along with the massive campus on the mountain, Orangetown also inherited a lawsuit filed by South Nyack in New York State Supreme Court to force the congregation to comply with fire and safety codes. The case has been referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution mediation program for the 9th Judicial District. Retired Judge William Sherwood has been assigned the case.
South Nyack argued several of the campus buildings were being used despite violations and without permits and inspections. The Hasidic Jewish congregation's attorneys called the village's legal action premature and argued the village took no action when the property was a Christian School.
Orangetown inspectors found multiple zoning, fire and safety code violations in buildings. Many of the violations have been resolved.
Orangetown took over the building code enforcement and prosecution in April when the South Nyack village government officially dissolved. South Nyack's inspections of the former Nyack College's 35 buildings before the sale was approved found numerous fire and safety violations that village officials contended could prevent people from living and working inside the buildings unless repaired. The South Nyack inspections were mandated by village regulations before a sale is consummated.
Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny said she's been told by the building department director that a majority of the violations cited on Sept. 6 and 22 have been remedied, with permit applications being submitted for uses taking place without the needed certificate of occupancy.
The Yeshiva of Viznitz has initial plans for operating two schools with about 500 students taking high school and college-level courses, Churgin has said. Nyack College, a Christian school, had more than 600 students and families on the South Nyack campus before deciding to sell the property in December 2018 and move to New York City.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lohudlegal.
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This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Officials contend violations at former Nyack College are being cured