Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Supervisor Doles' comments about Monroe housing trigger backlash 

Town Supervisor Harley Doles' public crusade against "accessory apartments" since last fall has complicated the town's effort to review its zoning, triggering threats of a discrimination lawsuit by Hasidic developers and causing the Town Board to pass a resolution last week formally condemning Doles and a councilman for those statements.

In comments at a public hearing and in a six-page letter last Monday, attorneys from the Dechert law firm in Manhattan charged that the town's proposal to halt residential construction for three months to update its planning and land-use regulations was meant to block homes for Hasidic families.

Their letter cited a series of statements from Doles about the potential proliferation of "KJ lifestyle developments" outside of Kiryas Joel in the Town of Monroe unless the town banned or tightened restrictions on accessory apartments.

"The Town's goal of preventing Hasidic families from 'proliferating' in Monroe could not be clearer," attorney Steven Engel wrote in an April 4 letter.

In a 3-2 vote after that hearing, the board approved a resolution repudiating any "discriminatory statements" by Doles and Councilman Gerry McQuade and promising to deliver all recordings and other evidence of them to the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office.

In their resolution, board members contended those statements could cause "serious legal harm" and may have had ulterior motives: to "taint any future zoning revisions" and undermine a pending lawsuit to block Kiryas Joel's attempted expansion.

Doles, in a phone interview Friday, called Engel's letter "a diatribe of nonsense" and scoffed at his being accused of discrimination, given his longtime alliance with Kiryas Joel's leaders.

He angrily charged that the developers were using religion as a screen to stop Monroe from restricting accessory apartments, an accommodation that he predicted they will use to double the number of homes they otherwise could build.

"I stand 100 percent behind everything I've said about the moratorium and the need to repeal the accessory apartment law," he said.

In a response letter to Engel on Thursday, the attorney representing Monroe for its zoning review countered that imposing a moratorium while updating a town's Comprehensive Plan is "both appropriate and lawful" and that Engel had given no evidence that Monroe's proposal was motivated by discrimination.

The attorney, Dennis Lynch, pointed out that the board had renounced remarks that could be construed as discriminatory and had no power to silence any of its members.

Lynch also noted that Engel hadn't identified his clients or explained how a moratorium would harm them.

He welcomed suggestions from Engel on modifying the moratorium's terms and "a collaborative effort with all residents as well as future residents and their representatives."

In an interview on Friday, Lynch pointed out that legal threats from developers are commonplace.

"The fact that the attorney is trying to maximize the profits for his developer clients is not unexpected or unusual," he said.

The moratorium, which the board proposed while Doles was on an extended absence, would prevent any approvals, permits or variances for residential construction for three months - or longer, if the board extends it - while a planner updates the town's 11-year-old Comprehensive Plan and recommends any zoning revisions.

The board could grant exceptions for "hardship" cases. It started its public hearing on the proposal last Monday and plans to resume it on April 18.

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