Fees rising in annexation spat

Posted on 13 September 2013 by Community Voice NY

Times Herald-Record

By Chris McKenna
Published: 2:00 AM – 09/13/13

Early in the fall, Woodbury and Monroe leaders gave conflicting responses to a developer’s request to shift 13 acres of woods that he owned from Woodbury into Monroe, where more lenient zoning would enable him to develop his property at greater density

Woodbury’s Town and Village boards rejected the petition, which also sought to stretch the Monroe border around two water storage tanks serving the Village of Kiryas Joel and a single-family house owned by the developer, Zigmond Brach.

Monroe’s Town Board assented. Then it went a step further, suing on behalf of Brach and Kiryas Joel to have a court panel override the Woodburys and allow the annexation.

Almost a year later, the case is awaiting a ruling by the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, legal fees have mounted and Monroe’s decision to wage a court fight has now seeped into a fierce campaign to dislodge three Town Board members in November.


Costly conflict

The conflict is draped in the usual emotions and accusations that surface when Kiryas Joel and its neighbors clash over real estate matters. The neighbors fear an expansion of Kiryas Joel’s high-density housing; Kiryas Joel and its defenders on the Monroe Town Board blame anti-Hasidic bigotry.

The matter has so far cost Woodbury taxpayers more than $83,000 in fees for attorneys representing their Town and Village boards, according to figures provided in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. How much the litigation has cost Monroe is unclear; the town was asked for its legal costs on Monday but hadn’t answered as of Thursday.

Monroe Councilman Harley Doles, who also serves as acting town supervisor, didn’t return calls to discuss the matter; Monroe Supervisor Sandy Leonard was on vacation and couldn’t be reached. Both Doles and Leonard are running for supervisor in November.

Critics have questioned Monroe’s intervention in the case and added it to a litany of grievances being presented to town voters this fall. Three Town Board candidates running under the United Monroe banner have vowed to discontinue the litigation if elected.

Brach could build no more than six single-family houses on his undeveloped land under Woodbury’s zoning, which requires each property be at least two acres. But neighboring Monroe permits multifamily housing in that area and could accommodate more than 100 apartments on Brach’s land, according to an analysis by Woodbury’s planner.

It’s unclear why Kiryas Joel’s two water towers would be any better off in Monroe than Woodbury. The village’s attorney, Donald Nichol, didn’t return calls for comment.

Court papers filed by attorneys for Monroe, Kiryas Joel and Brach argue the properties targeted for annexation belong more in Monroe than in Woodbury and would get better services there. They also claim Woodbury would treat development of them unfairly and quote insulting remarks made about Kiryas Joel during a public hearing last year.

Trial balloon?

The amount of land included in the petition was tiny in comparison to what neighboring communities had anticipated for several years, given the vast land holdings outside Kiryas Joel awaiting development. But opponents have said they suspect the modestly sized request was a trial balloon by Kiryas Joel to see how the courts respond.

Kiryas Joel is also suing Woodbury to overturn its zoning, which it calls discriminatory. That litigation has cost Woodbury more than $220,000 in legal fees so far.


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