Friday, January 28, 2011

Petitions fight Bethel sewer OK for Hasidic group 

A Satmar Hasidic group that went to war with town officials in 2009 and organized bloc votes against certain town officials is again at the center of a storm in Bethel.

Residents and two Town Board members are trying to stop the group from getting sewer services for future residential buildings off Route 17B on Schultz Road.

The colony is affiliated with the United Talmudical Academy, which had a highly publicized standoff with town officials in the summer of 2009 over the rapid construction of a synagogue and later started a petition drive targeting Town Board members. On Dec. 8, the Town Board voted by majority to extend the boundaries of the Kauneonga Lake Sewer District, prompting residents to gather petitions to force a permissive referendum on the extension.

Bethel Supervisor Daniel Sturm said the board had no good reason to deny the extension.

"Our attorney said if you turn it down without a good reason, you could get sued and lose," Sturm said. "So we have an obligation to avoid lawsuits and protect the taxpayers, especially if is the right thing to do."

The applicant, Kollel Averichim Torah Veyirah, has asked for an extension across Schultz Road. Sturm said group members plan to tear down some old bungalows and build a couple of multifamily buildings on a 5-acre parcel near the synagogue.

The group hasn't presented a project to the Planning Board. This sewer boundary extension was a preliminary step.

The group's attorney, Jay Zeiger, wouldn't speculate on why this issue has caused such a stir.

"You will need to speak to them," Zeiger said.

Roughly 90 residents of the district signed the petition, which was filed with the town this month. Kollel has challenged the legitimacy of the petition in state Supreme Court. The matter is tied up in court.

Board members Denise Frangipane and Robert Blais voted against the boundary extension. Frangipane wrote in an e-mail that she voted "no" over the issue of growth.

"As I stated at the meeting, the sewer upgrades and extension were done with the goal of providing infrastructure along Route 17B to attract commercial business and economic development to the town," she said. "By granting the extension, I believe that the Town is setting a precedent for future extensions and increased density which was not the intent of the investment that we made in the sewer district."


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