Tuesday, April 05, 2016

No action taken on proposed Monroe development moratorium 

Most town residents who spoke at a public hearing Monday supported the idea of halting residential development in Monroe for at least three months in order to review and update the town's Comprehensive Plan and zoning and prepare for hundreds of proposed new homes.

But the Monroe Town Board also heard from three lawyers in opposition to the proposed moratorium or its application to a 181-home project that's poised to begin.

One attorney riled the crowd by threatening to sue the Town Board on behalf of members of the Hasidic community, charging that the proposal to freeze development and update town zoning was intended to block housing for the Hasidim.

The moratorium hearing, held in a packed meeting room at the Monroe Senior Center, lasted a little more than an hour.

If enacted, the town would allow no approvals or permits for residential construction for three months, a period that could be extended if necessary.

The proposal is intended to preserve the status quo while a planner reviews the town Comprehensive Plan - which was last updated in 2005 - and recommends adjustments to that plan and the town's zoning codes to reflect current conditions.

Board members took no action on the proposal and agreed to continue the hearing at their next meeting, on April 18.

The first speaker was Benjamin Rose, a Manhattan attorney who said he represented "concerned members of the Hasidic community" and threatened litigation if the moratorium is approved.

Reading aloud a series of unattributed statements that he said showed "clear and documented discriminatory animus" against the Hasidim, he said that halting development for discriminatory reasons would violate the U.S. and state constitutions and the federal Fair Housing Act.

The board also heard from Kiryas Joel's attorney, Don Nichol, who opposed the moratorium or any tightening of zoning; and Ron Kossar, the attorney for the pending 181-home Smith Farm project off Gilbert Street.

Kossar argued that no projects with conditional final approval - which Smith Farm got in August - should be stopped from moving forward, and also hinted at possible litigation.

John Allegro, a leader of the United Monroe citizens group, argued that a moratorium was justified for the reasons that the town's planner, Bonnie Franson, had listed earlier, including the swings in the housing market since the Comprehensive Plan was drafted 11 years ago.

But he lambasted Town Supervisor Harley Doles for fanning fears about future Hasidic housing developments in Monroe and his warnings that those homes could lead to the formation of new Hasidic villages.

"For months now, we've been hearing disgusting rhetoric from our supervisor and one of our councilmen," Allegro said.

The crowd cheered as he concluded his statement by accusing Doles of sowing division and telling him, "Your attempts to evoke negative reactions from us, sir, will not work."

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