Cuddebackville -- The owners of a Falun Gong retreat are suing the Town of Deerpark, saying the way town officials have handled their planning approvals violates the Buddhist group's constitutional religious rights.
The Dragon Springs company started buildings its temple on Galley Hill Road in 2001. Since 2006, the complex has operated under a special-use permit that has had to be renewed every year, according to the federal lawsuit.
In November, the Deerpark Planning Board refused to renew the permit, saying it was never told about the performing arts college and high school being run at the Dragon Springs complex. The owners have been back before the Planning Board several times since then.
In the 133-page complaint, Dragon Springs' lawyers say that they shouldn't have to renew their permit yearly. They also say religious education was part of the original plans.
Claims illegal attempt to tax
Town officials want to require money from Dragon Springs for work on Galley Hill Road as a condition of the permit approval; the complaint calls that condition an illegal attempt to tax a tax-exempt group. They argue the town's limits on what they can do on their property violate federal laws against putting undue restrictions on a religious institution.
Most of the 427-acre property is undeveloped. It features a traditional Chinese Tang Dynasty-style temple and numerous other buildings, including residence halls, a library, classrooms, meditation halls, gazebos and gardens. The town's permit limits them to 100 permanent residents, 100 weekend visitors, and no child residents; the lawsuit also challenges these limitations.
Deerpark Supervisor Karl Brabenec said the town is weighing its options and looking for a lawyer to represent it. He said the school was never in any of Dragon Springs' special-use permits.
"We had told them, they need to come clean with us," he said.
"They need to tell us what is up there, what is operating. Currently, they are not in conformance with the zoning of the town."
The Cuddy and Feder law firm, in White Plains, is representing Dragon Springs; the lawyer handling the case was out of the office this week.
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