Thursday, October 08, 2015
When the Town of Monroe voted to allow Kiryas Joel, a densely populated Satmar Hasidic village located 55 miles from New York City to annex 164 acres of its land to alleviate a housing shortage, it wasn't a surprise. But neither was the Orange County Legislature's reaction: to join nine municipalities in a lawsuit against the annexation.
"The Village of Kiryas Joel is filled with good people living their lives, but for the past several years their government has been ignoring how things are done in New York State. That was a real tipping point," said Orange County executive Steven M. Neuhaus.
Among the contentious practices performed in Kiryas Joel includes attempts at sex segregation in public playgrounds and sidewalks, and an alleged widespread $40 million in Medicaid fraud among the village's residents. For Neuhaus there are also additional concerns involved in the annexation.
"We're concerned about the impact an annexation of 164 acres, zoned for single family use, could have, because if it's annexed it will be rezoned to high density housing for 1900 units. And where would all the extra sewer lines and water come from? Who is going to pay for that?" asked Neuhaus.
More than a property dispute, the annexation and subsequent legal challenge tells a story of diametrically opposed communities trying to preserve their ways of life. Add to the need to balance conservation against development, charges of government obfuscation and anti-Semitism, and one gets a sense of the delicate situation in this Hudson Valley locale.
"I'm Jewish, and so my problem with them has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. In fact I was here when Kiryas Joel first started and my first feeling was one of such joy and happiness," said Rochelle Marshall, who has lived in Monroe for 50 years. "Finally, I thought, there would be a Jewish community, a place to buy kosher food. Instead it has come to be a terrible, terrible curse."
The seeds for the dispute date back to the late 1970s when the Grand Rabbi of Satmar, Joel Teitelbaum founded Kiryas Joel, or KJ. Today about 22,000 people reside in the insular community, which to outsiders resembles a European shtetl. Women don't drive and other than their immediate family members, they don't socialize with men.
And, as is the norm in an ultra-Orthodox community, young people marry between the ages 18 and 19 and have between six to 10 children. This high birth rate means about 200 new housing units must be built annually for a population in which some 21% require public assistance.
If Kiryas Joel continues on its current trajectory there will be 42,497 residents by 2025, and 96,000 by 2040, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Program. From Kiryas Joel's perspective, protecting and nurturing their way of life means vastly increasing the size of their village.
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