Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Monroe board approves 164-acre annexation by Kiryas Joel, rejects 507-acre proposal 

Facing a crowd about 1,000 jammed into a banquet hall, the Monroe Town Board ended the first stage of a 20-month-long controversy by approving a petition to shift 164 acres of the town into the Village of Kiryas Joel, while rejecting a request for the village to annex a larger territory of 507 acres.

Kiryas Joel residents erupted with thunderous applause after the board cast its 4-1 vote around 8 p.m. Tuesday. By that time, each board member had made clear his intentions by taking turns addressing the audience about his reasoning and feelings about a heated issue that has divided Monroe's Satmar Hasidic community from residents in the rest of the town. Supervisor Harley Doles and councilmen Dan Burke, Gerard McQuade and Richard Colon supported the 164-acre annexation petition. Councilman Dennis McWatters cast the sole dissenting vote.

McQuade, who spoke for almost 20 minutes, called the decision a compromise, one that would cede to Kiryas Joel about a third of the territory in the larger annexation request. He said that many village residents with low and moderate incomes need affordable housing. And he argued the 164 acres was most suitable for that purpose because Monroe already allows relatively dense housing on those properties and because they fall in crevices of Kiryas Joel's jagged borders - an irregular outcome of the village's formation and subsequent expansion.

"This could be looked upon as us correcting past mistakes," he said.

Leaders of the United Monroe citizens group had been expecting the board to approve the smaller petition, and voiced disgust with the decision afterward.

"He wasn't talking at all about 'overall public interest,'" Emily Convers, the group's chairwoman, said of McQuade's rationale for his vote. "He was talking about his personal opinion and using very arbitrary reasoning."

Fellow United Monroe leader Mike Egan said the board had "completely ignored" the deluge of critical assessments that Monroe's own consultants and other municipalities and environmental groups had made of Kiryas Joel's environmental review. "The recklessness is hard to even comprehend," Egan said.

Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said he was "disappointed on the one hand, and satisfied on the other" with the decision on the two petitions, which he described as a "King Solomon solution."

Szegedin said the Village Board will appeal the rejection of the 507-acre to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, and suggested that might the best place to resolve the matter. "We believe that some of these issues must be decided by the judicial branch of government," he said.

Preserve Hudson Valley, a non-profit group affiliated with United Monroe, plans to sue in opposition to the 164-acre annexation petition. In a statement after the vote, United Monroe said: "The town board members who approved the annexation - Mr. Doles, Mr. McQuade, Mr. Colon and Mr. Burke - will have to answer for their indefensible actions to their neighbors and our legal system in the days and months ahead."

Steven Barshov, the attorney for the annexation petitioners, said after the vote that he was "happy about the 164, disappointed about the bigger one." He suggested that it was inconsistent for the board to decide that one annexation petition served the public interest but not the other.

In a statement after the vote, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus denounced the approval of the one petition and said he has asked county Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia to hold a special meeting to "consider the county's options." He alluded to a 30-day deadline to file a lawsuit.

“Time is of the essence,” Neuhaus said. “The options we have available to us today will not exist in 30 days."


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