Friday, November 15, 2019

First homes in long-planned Monroe development nearly ready 

Builders are nearing completion of the first set of houses in a 181-home development on Gilbert Street that has been marketed to Hasidic families and is the culmination of plans that first surfaced 20 years ago.

The project, known since its inception as Smith Farm, was renamed Smith Gardens on a promotional website that touted the development as a 19-minute walk from Kiryas Joel and offered prospective buyers a virtual tour of what were described as "luxury" homes.

How many units are nearly done, how much they cost and when they will be available remain unclear. Moshe Friedman and Mordechai Ungar, the two Kiryas Joel real estate agents listed as contacts on the Smith Gardens website, didn't respond to calls and emails from the Times Herald-Record, and by Thursday the website had been taken down. No homes in the development are listed for sale on the multiple listing service that real estate professionals typically use.

The development encompasses 78 acres in both the town and village of Monroe. As of Thursday, neither municipality had issued certificates of occupancy for any homes. Ron Kossar, a Middletown attorney representing the project, said nearly two dozen lots were under construction and a few were close to getting certificates of occupancy.

The project has evolved since the original developers in 1999 proposed 432 apartments and townhouses for the property, which is on the outskirts of Monroe's downtown area and near Route 17M and the ShopRite plaza. After a public outcry and a failed attempt to get the village to annex the town portion of the land, the developers whittled down the scope to 231 total homes — 157 single-family houses and 74 duplexes.

The town and village planning boards wound up approving 127 townhouses and single-family houses and 54 duplex units in 2015. By that time, the project had been taken over by businessman Ziggy Brach, who had acquired $6.7 million in mortgages on the property in 2008 and begun foreclosure the following year, according to public records.

Brach was listed in August as one of three initial directors for a newly created homeowners association for what was still referred to then as Smith Farm.

The new developers, known officially as BMG Monroe I LLC, have waged several skirmishes with local officials since getting approval and stripping the site, starting with heavy stormwater runoff that prompted stop work orders in 2016. That was soon followed by a building moratorium by the Town of Monroe that BMG challenged in federal court, claiming its purpose was to block new housing for Hasidic families.

That case was withdrawn in 2017 after the Town Board granted BMG an exemption from the moratorium so it could proceed with its plans.

The developer recently lost a separate lawsuit against the village over two design disputes, and has indicated it will appeal the decision.


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