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Dragon Springs files papers to open religious discrimination lawsuit against Deerpark

2022-02-16 Source:Times Herald-Record Author:Chris McKenna

CUDDEBACKVILLE - The Falun Gong compound known as Dragon Springs plans to file its second religious discrimination lawsuit against the town of Deerpark over what appear to be complaints about inspections of its property and a disruption of last week's celebration of the Chinese New Year.

The impending case will seek an unspecified amount in damages for alleged discrimination, selective enforcement, retaliation, and "malicious interference" with religious observance of the new year, a lawyer for Dragon Springs wrote in a summons filed last week in state Supreme Court in Goshen.


The entrance to Dragon Springs in Cuddebackwille on January 20, 2022. KELLY MARSH/FOR THE TIMES HERALD-RECORED


The lawsuit also will seek court orders to prohibit the town from "unauthorized entry" of the property and from doing inspections "lacking in good faith and probable cause," according to the summons. Named as defendants are the town, building inspector Al Fusco Jr. and his Middletown-based firm, Fusco Engineering and Land Surveying.

No complaint detailing the claims has yet been submitted to the court. Joshua Grauer, the attorney from the White Plains office of Cuddy & Feder who filed the summons on Wednesday, one day after the Chinese New Year, didn't respond to questions by phone and email about when the complaint would be filed.

Dragon Springs, a mountaintop compound established by the Chinese dissident group almost 20 years ago as a refuge and worship center, sued the town in federal court in 2013 for religious discrimination. In that case, also brought by Grauer and his firm, the town officials were accused of illegally requiring the community to renew its permit every year and dragging their feet in reviewing the application.


The entrance to Dragon Springs in Cuddebackwille on January 20, 2022. KELLY MARSH/FOR THE TIMES HERALD-RECORED


The town acknowledged in a settlement the next year that no further permit renewals were needed.

The new case is coming shortly after a federal lawsuit was filed last month against Dragons Springs for allegedly contaminating the adjacent Basher Kill stream and Neversink River with sewage. Two neighbors of the compound and an environmental advocacy group brought that case under the federal Clean Water Act.

What actions prompted the impending lawsuit by Dragon Springs is unclear. Town Supervisor Gary Spears and Fusco didn't return messages from the Times Herald-Record about the court summons.

Dragon Springs serves as world-wide headquarters for the Falun Gong. Its compound in western Orange County includes a Tang Dynasty-style temple, a 132-foot-high pagoda with Buddhist statues inside, residence and meditation halls, schools and rehearsal space for the renowned Shen Yun dance troupe.


The Falun Gong Dragon Springs compound in western Orange County. Julie Jacobson, AP


Falun Gong members initially bought 427 acres in 2000 to create Dragon Springs but have amassed far more land since then. County property records show that Dragon Springs' holdings now total more than 1,100 acres in Deerpark, Mount Hope and Otisville, of which about 870 acres are contiguous. Almost 750 acres are exempt from property taxes for religious reasons.

Dragon Springs applied to the town in 2018 to build more structures, including a 920-seat performance hall, a parking garage and a sewage treatment plant that could handle up to 100,000 gallons a day.

The review for those plans effectively stalled in 2019 after the town planning board required Dragon Springs do more environmental studies, which have not been submitted. Nonetheless, the federal lawsuit filed against it last month claimed that building activity appeared to increase last year, with construction vehicles seen entering the compound and overhead photos showing work being done.


Source: https://www.recordonline.com/story/news/local/2022/02/08/dragon-springs-plans-religious-discrimination-suit-against-deerpark/6661345001/