Members of the Pentecostal Holy Joy Church of the Lord in Modena are concerned about “subliminal messages” about their church made by town residents on Plattekill Rising’s Facebook page following an article in the September 14 issue of the Southern Ulster Times that detailed the church’s dispute with a neighbor.
“This article was posted on social media and it has opened up a window for public opinion, which is fine, but very harsh public opinion against the church,” said Deacon Nakia Brown at the September 20 Plattekill Town Board meeting. “Things like, ‘They don’t want neighbors. They want to keep it junky. That, in itself, does not help this cause. We’re not trying to create a problem. We’re trying to resolve it.”
The article was posted on the Plattekill Rising Facebook page on September 15 with seven comments about the church’s dispute with Richard Walls, who is building a house next to the church.
Supervisor Jennifer Salemo said she was sympathetic to the church’s concerns about the Facebook posts, but she said there was nothing the Town of Plattekill could do about them.
“Unfortunately, when people are behind computers they grow these internet muscles and they start typing away whether it’s true or false,” Salemo said. “They’ll just spew whatever they want to say. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can control.”
“I know it’s not something you can control,” Brown replied during the board’s public comment period. “But with the heightened risk and threat against religious institutions, this really concerns us. On Sunday, our children come out and play in our parking lot, which is at the front of the church. Anyone could run up on them. Or pull in the parking lot. Anything could happen. This is escalating to that level.”
Representatives of the church said they met with Town Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Scott Mandoske about the ongoing construction of the house next to the church, after Councilman Dean DePew Sr. suggested at the September 6 town board meeting that they meet with Mandoske.
Brown said church representatives talked with Mandoske about his decision to allow work to proceed on a house at 445 Freetown Highway owned by Richard Walls that is situated next to the church at 439 Freetown Highway.
Church officials maintained in a letter to the Town Board on September 5 that the structure owned by Walls is much larger than permissible under town regulations. They said the building violates town building and/or zoning requirements.
“We went back to the zoning board meeting minutes on March 23, 2023, where it was explicitly stated that the variances requested were denied,” Brown said. “When we brought that to the (building) inspectors’ attention he said that he made the call to move ahead and he got approval from Kingston. I don’t know who’s in Kingston, but that was his short and vague response, which does not help us to understand what or why.”
Salemo said Mandoske didn’t circumvent the zoning board’s decision to deny a variance for the property owner.
“His decision on where the house was to be built had nothing to do with what the zoning board decided on,” Salemo said. “The property owner was denied the variance. So, the house was to go up where it originally was footprinted. He (Mandoske) had the house moved over 20 feet due to the fire code.”
Brown wasn’t buying that explanation.
“So, they found another way around that variance,” she said. “They moved it a little and are building it even bigger than they originally planned. All they did was find a workaround to get the house of that size on the property.”
Town officials said they were in the midst of an investigation to determine if the construction of the new house was legal or not.
Following the meeting, Brown told the Southern Ulster Times that no direct threats were directed toward the church and its members, but the tone of the Facebook posts concerned her.
“They’re jumping in and saying things that make me very uncomfortable,” she said. “We have a lot of children in our church and the last thing we need is an angry person to show up not really knowing the full story and do something to hurt one of our children, whether it is on purpose or by accident.”
In other news, Michael Sink was approved as a new police officer by a 5-0 vote.
Sink, a resident of Westtown in neighboring Orange County, has extensive experience as a police officer previously working for police departments in the Village of Montgomery, Village of Walden, Village of Highland Falls and Town of Shawangunk.
A U.S. Army veteran, Sink was deployed to Iraq while serving in the Army from September 2015 to January 2019. He is currently serving in the New York National Guard.