Kiryas Joel to lead annexation review

Posted on 30 January 2015 by moshe emes
By Chris McKenna
Times Herald-Record

New York’s top environmental official ended a year-long impasse in a controversial bid to expand the Village of Kiryas Joel by announcing Wednesday that he had chosen Kiryas Joel over the Town of Monroe to oversee a study of the potential environmental impact of the proposal.

In an eight-page decision [Read the decision here], state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens concluded that Kiryas Joel had greater “authority as the provider of water and sewer services” for the 507 acres that would be shifted into the village from Monroe under an annexation petition filed in December 2013. Most of the land is wooded and would likely be developed as dense, multi-family housing for the Hasidic community if annexed into Kiryas Joel.

KJ-Arial-ViewThe choice of which municipality will control the environmental review fell to Martens because both Monroe and Kiryas Joel wanted to be lead agency. As the dispute lingered for months with no resolution in Albany last year, a group of property owners filed a second annexation petition in August that encompassed 164 of the 507 acres, and Kiryas Joel declared itself lead agency for that request with no opposition from Monroe. Kiryas Joel and its consultants have since begun an environmental review that they said would analyze the potential impact of both proposals.

In his determination, Martens delivered what amounted to an argument in support of Kiryas Joel’s high-density development, which he called “more environmentally sustainable” than Monroe’s “large-lot zoning” in the annexation area. He appears to assume, though, that pockets of concentrated development would be buffered by larger areas of open space, which is not the case in Kiryas Joel.

“Compact, high-density development is more likely to result in a community that is more walkable, bikeable and more conducive to mass transit while reducing vehicle miles traveled and generation of greenhouse gas emissions from combustion,” he wrote. “As a general rule, high-density development, appropriately sited, is considered more environmentally sustainable and conserves open space.”

Kiryas Joel officials applauded those comments and Martens’ decision in a prepared statement.

“The Village understands the magnitude of its responsibility and will comply with state law defining its role as lead agency,” they wrote. “Additionally, the Village recognizes its responsibility to the public and will solicit input as to ensure that multiple perspectives and points of view are heard.

United Monroe Chairwoman Emily Convers, whose citizens’ group has opposed the annexation effort, called Wednesday’s decision “a travesty of justice,” noting multiple violations that Martens’ own agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have found in Kiryas Joel. Allowing a village with that record to preside over an environmental review was “nothing short of astounding and incredibly irresponsible,” she argued.

Convers called on County Executive Steve Neuhaus and the county Legislature to “take an active role in preventing the unsustainable growth of this irresponsible village.”

United Monroe leaders had announced on Facebook Tuesday night that a source in Kiryas Joel had revealed the imminent DEC decision to them – advance knowledge that they took as further evidence of a “corrupt relationship” between Kiryas Joel and Albany officials. Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles and Monroe Town Clerk Mary Ellen Beams told the Times Herald-Record Wednesday morning that the DEC had given them no notification. Martens’ decision, dated Wednesday, was released to the media that afternoon.

Neuhaus issued a statement calling on the state Legislature to pass a law allowing counties to lead environmental reviews for annexation requests that would expand a municipality by at least 10 percent and “have such a massive impact on local resources.” (Adding 507 acres to Kiryas Joel would expand it by almost 75 percent.)¬†Assemblymen James Skoufis and Karl Brabenec both criticized the decision.

Dan Richmond, a White Plains attorney representing United Monroe, argued Kiryas Joel must start a new environmental review for the 507-acre petition, saying it’s a “very different action” than the 164-acre request.

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