Wednesday, July 19, 2017

KJ, United Monroe finalize deal for proposed Town of Palm Tree 

Kiryas Joel officials have agreed to refuse any annexation requests from Monroe or Blooming Grove property owners for 10 years under the terms of a multi-faceted deal they and leaders of the United Monroe citizens group signed Tuesday.

The agreement, three months in the making, includes a court settlement that would take effect in November if Monroe voters approve the creation of a new town that would separate Kiryas Joel from Monroe. The proposed Town of Palm Tree would consist of Kiryas Joel - including a 164-acre expansion that United Monroe's nonprofit arm, Preserve Hudson Valley, is challenging in court - and 56 additional acres.

After more than three years of conflict over that expansion and a larger annexation proposal that preceded it, the pact signed and announced Tuesday would give each side something it wanted. The Hasidic community would gain control of an additional 220 acres outside Kiryas Joel's previous boundaries into which its growing population could expand. And United Monroe and its supporters would get a 10-year moratorium on similar land battles and the ability to vote in Monroe elections without Kiryas Joel's large voting blocs deciding the outcome.

Mike Egan, a 35-year Monroe resident and United Monroe leader who led negotiations for his group, said the separation would end a longstanding conflict rooted in the opposing "aspirations" of the two communities: one to sustain its growth, the other to preserve a semi-rural and suburban environment.

"The political separation appears to be the only way that the Town of Monroe can maintain its independence, since the bloc vote of Kiryas Joel is too powerful to overcome in the long term," Egan said.

Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said by email that the agreement was intended "to create a solid foundation for a lasting peace between the residents of KJ and the residents of Monroe, by giving both communities total independence from the other without any political interference."

If voters approve the new town, the two sides would sign a court stipulation ending the lawsuit Preserve Hudson Valley brought to oppose the 164-acre annexation that the Monroe Town Board approved in 2015. It wouldn't affect directly a similar court challenge that Orange County and eight towns and villages brought, although the creation of a new town would render the annexation dispute moot. Both cases are pending in the Appellate Division after a state Supreme Court judge dismissed the lawsuits last year.

As part of the agreement signed Tuesday, Kiryas Joel would drop its own case to have the Appellate Division approve the 507-acre annexation request that Monroe rejected in 2015.

The Orange County Legislature is expected to vote on the proposed town creation in September. If approved by a two-thirds majority, or at least 14 of 21 lawmakers, the proposal will be put to Monroe voters in a referendum on Nov. 7.

The proposed town Kiryas Joel and United Monroe pledged to support is smaller than what the Hasidic community first sought. The town petition signed by 2,240 residents and submitted to the Legislature last year consisted of Kiryas Joel plus 382 acres, including the 164 acres the village annexed. Kiryas Joel officials agreed to reduce the town size in negotiations with United Monroe.

Even with those discussions continuing, Kiryas Joel leaders had submitted a new map with the size reduction to the Legislature this month to meet a deadline. The changes had to be made one month before two public hearings scheduled for mid-August.

The proposed town originally was called North Monroe, but Kiryas Joel leaders have changed the name to Palm Tree - the English translation of Teitelbaum, the last name of the founder of the Satmar Hasidic movement.

Under state law, the new town wouldn't come into existence until Jan. 1, 2020. But Kiryas Joel has pledged to seek special legislation in Albany to speed up the effective date.

The deal is contingent on the Monroe-Woodbury and Kiryas Joel school boards agreeing to shift their shared borders to move the 164 annexed acres and 56 new acres into Kiryas Joel School District. Their deadline to do so is Sept. 6. That boundary change would take effect only when the new town exists.

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