Yonkers NY – Cemetery memorial dispute settled

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Plans for a memorial on the site of a former Orthodox Jewish cemetery are moving forward after a delay of more than a year due to legal proceedings.The memorial commemorating the cemetery is to be built on the site of the city’s Austin Avenue retail project, built by Morris Industrial Builders. Its creation is the result of a court action brought by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.Spitzer’s office first filed a case against the developer in 2004 after it was discovered that the remains of only 12 or 13 identified children in the cemetery had been moved, while more than 100 graves for children were marked on the cemetery map. It was alleged that Morris had failed to follow state laws regarding nonprofit organizations.

The cemetery had been owned by the now-defunct Congregation People of Righteousness. The remains buried at the site were relocated to Israel in 1989.

Under the law, nonprofit groups such as the congregation must receive a fair price when they sell property. In this case, the payment to the congregation was the removal of the cemetery.

The issue was brought to court again last month when Spitzer’s office claimed the developer’s plans for the proposed memorial were too small and out of the way.

Both sides reached an agreement after a visit to the site now a parking lot for The Home Depot and Costco by state Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz late last month.

Philip Halpern, an attorney for the Rutherford, N.J.-based developer, said drawings for the proposed monument should be done by the end of the month.

“The issue it never was a problem is solved,” Halpern said. “Morris went out of his way in this case.”

Spitzer’s office had proposed building the monument on an accessible area along the western side of the Costco parking lot. But Morris officials wanted the monument near the rear of the parking lot.

Halpern said the location was too large for the proposed memorial and could be a distraction for motorists.

The two sides agreed to place the memorial where Spitzer’s office suggested it go, but it will be smaller than originally proposed.

Brad Maione, a Spitzer spokesman, said the project should be completed in a few months.

Morris agreed to build the memorial in January 2005 after the two sides had argued in court over the disputed graves of 135 children whose remains were not accounted for before the cemetery was demolished at the site.

In the settlement, Morris agreed to pay $100,000 to the Attorney General’s Office for the memorial, which would commemorate the approximately 94 adults and 147 children who were buried there. Any funds left over would go to a charity group agreed on by the court.

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