Tuesday, March 03, 2015

KJ to hold hearing on annexation request 

A tense debate over the potential expansion of Kiryas Joel resumes Tuesday night with a public hearing in the village about an impending environmental review for a proposal to move 507 acres of Monroe into Kiryas Joel.

Kiryas Joel officials are holding the hearing - known technically as a scoping session - to gather input on topics that should be addressed in the review, just as they did in September for a scaled-back annexation petition by property owners that encompassed 164 acres. They are repeating that step because state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens has since named Kiryas Joel to oversee studies for the larger expansion plan, ending a year-long impasse over whether the village or Town of Monroe would be the lead agency.

The session begins at 7 p.m. at Bais Rachel Paradise Hall, a girls' school at 5 Israel Zupnick Drive.

"The Village understands the magnitude of its responsibility and will comply with state law defining its role as lead agency," Ari Felberman, Kiryas Joel's government relations coordinator, said in a press release announcing the scoping session last month. "Additionally, the Village recognizes its responsibility to the public and will solicit input to ensure that multiple perspectives and points-of-view are heard."

Annexation opponents, who fought Kiryas Joel's bid to control the environmental review, view Tuesday's session as a mere legal formality for the village leadership, given its interest at the outset in expanding Kiryas Joel.

"The aggressive and inflammatory statements made by Kiryas Joel leaders and their proxies against those opposed to this large scale land grab deserve admonishment," Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group, said in a letter emailed to state and county lawmakers and municipal officials on Sunday. "As our elected leaders, we ask for your presence, your support and your firm opposition to this farce, disguised as a legitimate scoping session."

About 300 people attended the village's 90-minute scoping session in September, during which opponents questioned the legality of considering the 164-acre petition while the 507-acre one was pending and denounced the rhetoric and tactics of the village officials seated before them. Several Hasidic community members voiced support for the proposed annexation.

Just days before Tuesday's session, Kiryas Joel officials mailed Monroe residents a large postcard with photos that sought common ground by identifying values the two communities share, such as "respecting tradition and opinion," "caring for the vulnerable" and "ensuring a sustainable future." The mailing invited email comments and promised more information in coming months "about our community, its culture and the services provided to residents."

Convers said Monday her group found the overture "insulting" because the shared values it proclaimed were obvious - and irrelevant to the real source of conflict.

"The problem we have had, and continue to have, is with the Kiryas Joel government," she said.

Felberman said in a statement: "The values that Village of Kiryas Joel, Town of Monroe and Orange County residents share and hold sacred are far more numerous and more powerful than the divisiveness of political agendas." 

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