East Hills, 6-9-13 -- NYS Supreme Court Justice Anthony L. Parga ruled AGAINST every argument we put forward. The judge's decision barely touched on any of the evidence or arguments we put forward, and indeed relied on obsolete court decisions to sustain its decision. We have the option of appealing but the spectre of losing and the potential costs involved make the calculation a long-shot. Justice Parga did, however, deny the Village's aggressive positioning and request for 'costs' in the lawsuit, perhaps a slap at their shocking and unseemly personal attacks within the actual legal papers.
East Hills, 3-24-13 -- East Hills environmental and civic activist Richard Brummel filed a lawsuit Monday in State Supreme Court, Mineola, challenging village approvals of eight different housing and tree removal applications that he had strenuously opposed in hearings in February and March, and then tried to appeal within the village bureaucracy but was refused the opportunity.
After two years of fighting what he says is gross over-building and rampant removal of healthy mature trees in East Hills, primarily by real estate developers, Mr. Brummel, 52, said he felt the Courts are the only way to force East Hills to abide by its own laws.
“East Hills has very strongly-worded laws that claim to 'protect the tree canopy for current and future generations' (Village Code 186-1) and to 'preserve the prevailing aesthetic character' of the community (Village Code 271-186), but it's all BS. The Board charged with upholding the laws is packed with pro-development hacks, and the Village Trustees keep it that way,” Mr. Brummel said.
The lawsuit, at its core a 38 page “petition”, asks the Court to force East Hills to allow Mr. Brummel to appeal recent decisions by the village's Architectural Review Board (ARB) to the village Zoning Board of Appeals based on an open-ended definition in the village code, along with state law on zoning appeals that Mr. Brummel asserts gives him that right.
But additionally, the lawsuit, filed as a so-called “Article 78” challenge, asks the court to nullify a set of decisions by the ARB on the ground that they were “arbitrary and capricious” or otherwise fail to uphold laws as written.
Among the eight already-approved applications being challenged is one permitting the destruction of ten out of seventeen mature trees by a developer at 55 Oakdale Lane; one permitting the removal of eight mature trees at 70 Oak Drive, most of which were said to be irreparably damaged by a developer's careless excavation; the removal of fourteen trees by a developer at 15 Fir Drive; the removal of four large trees – two oaks, a birch, and a cherry tree – for a demolition and rebuilding at 205 Elm Drive; and the demolition and rebuilding of a house with 100% greater size and lot coverage than the current one at 31 Pinewood Road.
In each case the lawsuit challenged, Mr. Brummel had appeared before the ARB meetings and pointed to multiple failings in paperwork submitted, or the way the proposals clashed with the stated intent of village law to protect trees and to preserve the architectural harmony of the community.
But in each case, and in others not added to the lawsuit in the interest of economy, the ARB ignored the critiques and unanimously approved the applications with little discussion of the issues raised by Mr. Brummel – which were often met with open scorn.
“This is the culmination of a very sad story of bad government in East Hills – a story that is incidentally going on all over -- but I am not entirely optimistic that the Court will help out because there are technical issues that could prevent a fair hearing on the merits,” Mr. Brummel said.
On Monday, March 18th, a State Supreme Court judge hearing the case, Justice Anthony L. Parga, refused to grant preliminary orders to force East Hills to halt the issuance of permits and to stop work on the applications pending the hearing of the lawsuit.
Justice Parga did not issue a reason for the refusal, but his law clerk said the judge “never” gives out such orders.
On Friday, March 22, Mr. Brummel appealed Justice Parga's refusal to stop the work in East Hills in papers filed with the the Appellate Division, Second Department in Brooklyn, but a judge there, Justice Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix refused to overrule Justice Parga.
The case is due to be considered again by Justice Parga on or after April 5th, when final papers are due in Mineola.
“It's going to be too late for many trees and homes. The courts seemed to be unwilling to accept the idea that I had 'legal standing' to challenge the decisions, based on restrictive New York rules that require a high hurdle of 'actual injury' to be likely before you can challenge destructive government actions. I made a strong argument that I did have standing, and we'll wait until future appearances to see. But it's going to be too late,” Mr. Brummel said.
“Going door-to-door last Spring, I collected signatures of dozens of East Hills residents who strongly objected to overdevelopment and destruction of nature here. The governing clique of East Hills, which makes a mockery of good government in far too many ways, is content to allow the new wave of residents and developers wreck this community, but I am doing my best to stop them,” Mr. Brummel said.
Mr. Brummel currently works full-time as a cook in the area, but also has an Ivy League background, worked several years as a journalist, among other things. He runs an environmental-advocacy website called Planet-in-Peril.org, whose motto is “Act Locally – But Act!”
Mr. Brummel prepared all the legal papers himself, learning NY civil procedure laws as he went, and consulting occasionally with an environmental law specialist he knows upstate, as well.
“All environmental activist should learn how to do this, because lawyers are too expensive to use in many cases, and even when used we need to know how and when to use them. With the political process captured by money and developers, the courts are often the only chance for environmentalists to force government to do what it is supposed to do,” Mr. Brummel said, adding “Just look at the Adirondacks, which I have been involved in. The largest-ever development project in the Adirondack Park is now stopped – but only because a lawsuit was filed last January. Those lawyers are dynamite, and the Sierra Club is involved too."