Annexation foes, Kiryas Joel officials meet at forum

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Josh Green


Comments from audience grow heated

KIRYAS JOEL — Opponents of a proposed expansion of Kiryas Joel met the leaders of that community in a public forum for the first time and leveled a barrage of criticism at them on Monday, bristling at their past accusations of anti-Semitism and questioning the legality of the zigzagging annexation push.

KJAnnexThe setting was an ornate banquet hall inside a Kiryas Joel girls’ school, where a “scoping session” was held for audience members to suggest environmental issues that should be studied for a pending proposal to annex 164 acres of Monroe into Kiryas Joel.

Roughly 300 people attended, with Kiryas Joel residents — mostly men — on one side and the rest of the audience seated on the other.

Many people who spoke during the 90-minute session strayed from its limited purpose to make broader arguments about community relations, the purpose of expanding Kiryas Joel and the course the proposal has taken.

Attorneys representing the United Monroe citizens group and Town of Woodbury, among other speakers, argued that focusing on the potential impact of the 164-acre annexation request would be an illegal “segmentation” of an earlier petition that encompassed the same territory plus other land.

Kiryas Joel’s consultants plan to consider the previous request for 507 acres as an “alternative” proposal in their studies, but opponents said that was inadequate.

“These proceedings are already replete with procedural defects,” said attorney Krista Yacovone of Zarin & Steinmetz, the White Plains law firm representing United Monroe.

Some speakers made pointed remarks to Kiryas Joel’s mayor, trustees and administrator, who were seated on a raised platform beside the Monroe Town Board.

“Your own proxies use religion as a weapon to beat legitimate opposition into submission,” said John Allegro, a United Monroe member, alluding to charges of religious bigotry leveled at annexation opponents. “We are not afraid of that. We will fight for the law, and we will fight for what is right.”

Several Kiryas Joel residents and people who live just outside the village argued in support of annexation, saying they wanted better municipal services and sidewalks and places for their children to settle as land in Kiryas Joel grows scarce.

“We have also a right,” said Isaac Wagshal of Monroe. “We pay sewer taxes. We are in a sewer tax district, but we don’t have sewer.”

Monroe resident Derek DeFreitas marveled at having the rare opportunity to address Kiryas Joel’s leaders in person, and urged them to work more openly with their neighbors for the good of both communities.

“A lack of communication is a certain way to create distrust and misunderstanding and a lack of progress,” he said. “We have to continue to meet.”

A group of Hasidic property owners filed the annexation petition in August after a previous request for the same land plus 343 other acres stalled in Albany because of a dispute over which municipality — Monroe or Kiryas Joel — would oversee the environmental review.

Since both boards had sought to be lead agency, the choice fell to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which never made one.

The second time around, the Monroe Town Board immediately ceded the lead-agency role to the Kiryas Joel board.

The earlier petition for 507 acres, which was filed Dec. 27, is still pending.

Kiryas Joel’s consultants plan to finalize a list of topics to be studied in an environmental impact statement about the annexation proposal by early October.

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