Monday, June 08, 2015
The man with his thumb in the development dike in this ever-growing community is a wealthy businessman named Irving Bauer.
For 26 years, the Mount Kisco resident has owned about 70 acres of undeveloped land in Kiryas Joel, a peninsula that juts from the eastern side of the village and runs along Nininger Road, across the street from the Monroe state police barracks. As densely packed condominium buildings have sprouted from parcel after parcel in the 1.1-square-mile village, Bauer has held tight to his stretch of woodlands, waiting for its value to climb.
Now, in the midst of a sharp conflict over efforts to expand Kiryas Joel by as much as 507 acres, Bauer's property is the last major swath of virgin land in the community, making up about 10 percent of its entire 691 acres. During a protracted court case with Orange County over a sliver of that land, he has contended that his property could accommodate more than 1,000 condos and is worth tens of millions of dollars. If true, his land could hold more than a quarter of the 3,800 new homes Kiryas Joel leaders say their community needs to keep pace with population growth in the next decade.
Bauer, who is 70 and owns numerous properties in New York City, didn't respond to messages left at his office in the Bronx, where his property management firm and oil-burner repair business are located. When he intends to sell or develop his Kiryas Joel land is unclear. Gerald Orseck, the Liberty attorney representing him in the Orange County lawsuit, said his client had last told him he was "land-banking" the property, and gave no timeframe for its development.
"He is land-banking, confident that its value is increasing," Orseck said.
Bauer's property was part of 391 acres Kiryas Joel annexed from the Town of Monroe in 1983, an expansion that more than doubled the village's size only six years after its incorporation. Monfield Homes, the Satmar Hasidic development arm that established Kiryas Joel, owned Bauer's land when the annexation occurred, but transferred it two years later to an entity called Bakertown Estates, land records show. Whatever plans Bakertown had for it quickly went awry after it borrowed $245,000 at 14 percent interest from Bauer, an Orthodox Jew who belongs to the Nitra sect, not the Satmar Hasidic movement that populates Kiryas Joel.
Bakertown defaulted on the mortgage and signed the property over to Bauer in 1989.
The land's value became a matter of intense debate more than a decade later, when Orange County and Kiryas Joel began collaborating to reconfigure a dangerous curve on County Route 105 on the edge of the village, an effort that required taking a 1.5-acre corner of Bauer's property. The county seized the land through eminent domain and performed the road work around 2006, but wound up in a heavily litigated dispute with Bauer over how much to pay him. The county's appraised value was $33,000. Bauer wanted $1.1 million.
An appraiser testifying for Bauer in that case estimated that the 35.6-acre parcel from which the new roadway was carved was worth $27 million, and that Bauer's entire property could fit about 1,044 housing units at Kiryas Joel-style density after the county's taking. But a public health engineer for Orange County cast doubts on that development potential, saying during the trial that Kiryas Joel's "lack of adequate water supply is a predominate factor which cannot be disregarded," as the judge summarized in his 2013 decision in the case.
In language relevant to the current annexation debate, state Supreme Court Justice James Brands said in his decision that the county engineer, Lee Bergus, had testified that "unless a significant change in the future were to occur in one fashion or another, water for the foreseeable future is not available which would permit the Orange County health department to approve a project such as that envisioned" by Bauer. Brands sided with the county and its $33,000 appraisal.
Orange County has spent around $490,000 in legal fees on the case, which is now pending in the Appellate Division. Kiryas Joel had agreed in 2005 to cover any litigation costs for the land taking, but later refused and sued to recover almost $150,000 in sales tax revenue that the county had withheld from the village to recoup the expenses. That case is also pending.
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