Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Mixed response to new KJ building plans 

For Kiryas Joel's leaders, the disclosure last week that up to 1,500 homes are being planned for the village's last big chunk of undeveloped land was cause for celebration, offering relief from what they say is a mounting housing shortfall for the Hasidic community's new couples.

In a statement on Monday, Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said the number of newlyweds seeking homes in Kiryas Joel has outpaced apartment construction by as many as 400 units over the last five years, forcing more families to buy homes outside the village.

He said village leaders are pleased the owner of 70 acres of woods off Nininger Road finally decided to develop the property, promising a housing surge that could "slow the overflow" to Monroe, Blooming Grove and Woodbury.

But for critics, plans of that magnitude raise the same concerns about overdevelopment that they had with the stalled attempts to expand the village borders through annexation.

"Simply because this land is already in KJ does not give them license to continue their practices of irresponsible development," argued John Allegro, a leader of the United Monroe citizens group and an Assembly candidate.

He questioned in particular the county's ability to treat the sewage from 1,500 homes and the potential traffic impact on Nininger Road, a two-lane road that leads to Monroe-Woodbury's high school and middle school.

The extent to which those and other issues are studied and the studies made public remains to be seen. However contentious, the environmental review Kiryas Joel conducted for the annexation proposals at least played out in public, with crowds gathering in a banquet hall in Kiryas Joel to voice concerns and village officials faithfully posting online every document the review generated.

But that is not the normal course of business for development inside Kiryas Joel's borders.

Village officials always have ignored the legal requirement that they refer certain development applications to the county Planning Department for review, a measure of outside scrutiny that lets county planners consider ways in which projects might affect neighboring municipalities or the county as a whole and make recommendations.

It is also unclear whether Kiryas Joel, with more than 1,000 housing units said to be already under construction or in planning stages, subjects its building applications to a planning board's oversight.

County records say that Kiryas Joel's Planning Board meets once a month, at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, but the village's municipal meetings are hard to pin down and attend.

David Church, Orange County's planning commissioner since 2002, said he has tried in vain to observe Kiryas Joel's planning board and zoning board in action.

Szegedin said Monday that the village plans to complete the first stage of a $50 million water project by April, and will have more than enough water then to supply 1,500 additional homes.

He also suggested that sewage concerns are overblown, arguing that the 600,000 gallons of daily wastewater than 1,500 homes would generate would leave plenty of available capacity at the county's treatment plant in Harriman.

The average daily flow there was 4.2 million gallons in April, about 1.8 million gallons below the limit, according to a county report he provided.

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