Friday, November 21, 2014

143- The Bruderhof Factory

You can read the minutes of the Esopus Planning Board meeting of January 15, 2014.  In this meeting we see the familiar mugs of Michael Moriello and Dennis Larios, representing Bruderhof's legal and engineering interests respectively.

The project was presented to the Planning Board, though in the project application, Bruderhof claims that discussions with town officials took place before the property was purchased two years earlier and assurances were made by town personnel that the factory would be approved.

For now, we will just pretend that everybody here was on the level, and we will look at the project on its face.

The application included descriptions of what would be produced in the factory.  The toys and medical equipment, the items disclosed to the Planning Board, are not approved manufactured items in the RF-1 zone.  The only manufacturing that is allowed in the RF-1 zone is mill work, but not furniture production.

A vague reference to federal statute in a legal letter by somebody unknown to me has me suspecting that the exception Bruderhof will claim is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), described in a previous post.  Here is how that would work:

Bruderhof is a religious community, which is a permitted use in the Riverfront (RF-1) zone, the property in question.  Under normal circumstances, there would likely need to be a subdivision for the manufacturing use.  However, the applicants (Bruderhof) through Hans Boller, their PR guy, claimed that  "manufacturing is part of their religious life. Whatever is made and sold is filtered back into the religious community." What we see here is a claim that the act of "manufacturing" is claimed as part of the religion, so theirs will be a religious factory, no matter what it produces.

For some years, not far from Ulster County, Bruderhof produced airplanes.  It might again.  Who is to say that once the factory is built, it will not then switch manufacturing to whatever else Bruderhof is doing at the time?  This church has been assigned the aircraft patents of its interest's CEO, Christian Domer.

I spent hours trying to track this company's, sorry, church's corporate/operational web, and I lost the trail when the Rifton Aviation Services sold, and I got lost among Rifton Management LLC, Rifton Enterprises Inc, Rifton Enterprises LLC, Rifton Equipment, Bruderhof Communities in CT Inc, Community Products LLC, and of course Community Playthings LLC (dissolved).

This church has some SLICK accountants.

the interesting thing is that Hans Boller volunteered that Bruderhof wants to pay taxes to the town on the factory portion of the religious manufacturing experience, but does not want to subdivide the land, or seek a variance from the town in order to legally manufacture consumer products.  What this comes down to is the following:  Bruderhof wants their factory to be part of their general (and allowed in RF-1 zone) religious community, but they also want to pay taxes on this business.  Paying taxes on money earned in religious contemplation and activity, which is then spent to sustain the very people and very land that the workers live on, is all part of the same religious experience.  There is no way that the town can grant this church a religious exemption to produce furniture, or wheelchairs, or airplanes, or any other disallowed use in the RF-1 zone, and then turn around and collect taxes on the business operation, as though it were secular.

Is this church an exempt religious organization making consumer product to support itself?  Or is it a taxpaying landowner?  It seems the Esopus Planning Board and the church want it to be some of each.  Attorneys for Bruderhof stated, naturally, that there is no need to subdivide the property, which means that when the property is sold, manufacturing will be an allowed use for any buyer.  If no variance is granted for the factory, then the factory can only ever be operated by a religious organization.  How can a buyer of a property with a factory on it not be permitted to use the factory?  It can, since the use will be grandfathered in, somehow.  This is what the Town of Esopus is setting itself up for. Eventually.

To be fair, it has been reported to me that opinions of other employees of the Town of Esopus that have been consulted and ignored, are that this project requires a zoning variance.

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