Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Judge upholds 164-acre expansion of Kiryas Joel 

A state Supreme Court justice has given Kiryas Joel a sweeping victory in two court cases challenging its annexation of 164 acres from the Town of Monroe, rejecting all legal claims that attorneys for Orange County, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley had made to void the Monroe Town Board's approval of that border change a year ago.

In a 96-page decision signed Tuesday, Justice Gretchen Walsh found no grounds to invalidate Kiryas Joel's expansion or the environmental review the village conducted for two overlapping annexation petitions. She left it to the Appellate Division to decide in a separate case if that review was adequate for a 507-acre annexation request that Monroe rejected. Kiryas Joel is seeking approval for the larger annexation through a pending case it brought in the appeals court.

The ruling means Kiryas Joel will take jurisdiction over the 164-acre area formerly outside its borders unless the losing parties appeal the decision and win a temporary injunction, similar to the one that kept the land under Monroe's control while the cases were pending.

Leaders of the Satmar Hasidic village were unavailable to comment on the ruling on Wednesday because it was Yom Kippur, the solemn Jewish Day of Atonement. They and the annexation petitioners had sought the expansion to accommodate housing and municipal services for the fast-growing community.

Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group and a director of the affiliated Preserve Hudson Valley, said leaders of the organization will decide "shortly whether or not to appeal this irresponsible decision."

"Justice was not served today," Convers said. "Preserve Hudson Valley will continue to fight to prevent unsustainable actions by environmental violators, and will also promote the invaluable notion that religion and government must remain separate for any healthy society."

Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles, one of four Town Board members who supported the 164-acre annexation in a 4-1 vote, applauded Walsh's ruling, arguing the expansion of Kiryas Joel will help protect the Monroe-Woodbury School District from the cultural divisions that plague East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. Expanding Kiryas Joel School District's borders to take in the annexed land would mean that current and future residents of that area would pay taxes to Kiryas Joel School District and vote in its elections, not Monroe-Woodbury's.

"No one wants another East Ramapo," Doles said in a statement. "This ruling ensures that the school districts will remain free to continue the educational goals which each and every parent holds as the number one reason for moving to Orange County."

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in a statement that he still believes Kiryas Joel's annexation "is not in the overall public interest" - the legal standard for approving such border changes. County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said later that county officials won't decide whether to appeal until they and the municipalities that sued get "a candid assessment from the lawyers about what they think of the chances of an appeal."

Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan, whose village was one of the municipalities that joined the county in the litigation, said local leaders will likely meet early next week to discuss the ruling and possibility of an appeal. "We don't agree with the decision, so the likelihood is that we would appeal. But we haven't talked yet."

The decision comes as the Orange County Legislature prepares to take up a new petition to form a Town of North Monroe, which would consist of Kiryas Joel and 382 acres that largely falls within the 507-acre annexation. How Walsh's ruling affects that new initiative was not immediately clear.

A group of Monroe property owners petitioned in December 2013 for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres, and later filed a separate petition for 164 acres while the original proposal was in limbo. Kiryas Joel oversaw an environmental review that analyzed the potential effects and approved both petitions; the Monroe board assented only to the smaller request.

Opponents argued during the annexation debate and in court papers that Kiryas Joel's review was grossly inadequate, partly because it limited projections of the community's growth to 10 years instead of looking deeper in the future or doing a full build-out analysis. In Tuesday's ruling, Walsh said she "sees nothing arbitrary or capricious with (the) use of a 10-year horizon."


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