Thursday, October 04, 2012

Anti-Hasidic bigotry accusations leveled 

The Monroe Town Board has approved a seemingly minor annexation request that two Woodbury boards rejected, setting the stage for a possible court fight over an issue that has rekindled anxiety about Kiryas Joel expanding and provoked accusations of anti-Hasidic bigotry.

Developer Zigmond Brach and the Village of Kiryas Joel jointly petitioned in May for Monroe to annex roughly 14 acres in neighboring Woodbury. The property consists mostly of undeveloped land that Brach owns and includes a half-acre parcel where Kiryas Joel has erected two water storage tanks.

In separate votes last month, officials representing the Town of Woodbury and the Village of Woodbury unanimously opposed the request. In its rejection, village officials listed numerous technical and substantive reasons, including the prospect that Brach would develop the land at much greater density in Monroe than Woodbury's zoning allows.

The Monroe Town Board voted 5-0 in support of the petition Monday night, declaring that "the property owners appear to face outright hostility" in Woodbury and are more likely to get "fair treatment" in Monroe. Its decision quoted comments made at a public hearing in July, including one about "our friendly bearded neighbors who seek to reshape our village borders."

Monroe Councilman Harley Doles said Tuesday that his board supported the request because "we have a duty to make sure everybody is able to play on the same playing field."

Under state law, Monroe can ask a state appeals court to review the case and approve the requested border shift. Doles said the board hasn't discussed whether to do so.

Woodbury Councilman James Skoufis said opposition to the request was so strong because it was seen as a test case for future efforts to annex large land tracts such as 140-acre ACE Farm into Kiryas Joel to allow the continued development of multifamily housing.

"Whoever wins in court will have precedent on their side," Skoufis said.

He dismissed the suggestion of anti-Hasidic sentiment, saying that an annexation request must "be in the overall public interest, and I haven't heard any argument, compelling or otherwise, why this would be in Woodbury's interest."


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