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Judge Rules That Kiryas Joel's 164-Acre Annexation Plan Is Valid

A state Supreme Court justice has rejected two legal challenges to a Hasidic Jewish village's expansion in Orange County. Unless there is an appeal, the 164-acre annexation may proceed.

In a 97- page decision signed Tuesday, Justice Gretchen Walsh of Westchester County found no grounds to invalidate Kiryas Joel's annexation of 164 acres from the town of Monroe or an environmental review the village conducted. The legal challenges were mounted by Orange County, nine municipalities and others against the Town of Monroe and Village of Kiryas Joel for their approval of the annexation. Emily Convers is with nonprofit group Preserve Hudson Valley, which challenged the environmental review of the proposed annexation.

“We believe this was a shockingly irresponsible decision, especially when you look at the facts which essentially have been irrefutable,” Convers says. “And over 27 independent agencies had weighed in on the environmental review process that was conducted by Kiryas Joel’s engineering firm and all of these independent agencies found the environmental review process to be inadequate at best and a sham at worst.”

Kiryas Joel officials were not available for comment Wednesday given it was Yom Kippur and did not respond in time for this broadcast. Convers, meanwhile, says the group was scheduled to meet with its lawyer Thursday to decide whether to appeal the decision. Convers knows what she would do.

“I’m leaning towards absolutely appealing this. I don’t see how we can sit by and not appeal this decision,” says Convers. “And I think our supporters are with us on that. The donations have been flooding in since last night, so it’s very encouraging to see that.”

Preserve Hudson Valley’s Facebook page posted an appeal for donations on Wednesday to, “Keep on fighting the good fight.” Convers says donations have amounted to some $2,000 as of Thursday morning. Democratic state Assemblyman James Skoufis is calling for an appeal of the decision.

“I certainly encourage an appeal,” says Skoufis. “I think that the people of Orange County want to see that happen and certainly I want to see that happen.”

Skoufis’ district includes eight of the nine municipalities that challenged the 164-acre annexation proposal.

“It goes without saying that I couldn’t be more disappointed. I have encouraged the groups involved here to appeal," Skoufis says. "We’ve seen in the past, for example, most recently with Woodbury’s comprehensive plan, the Court of Appeals had been a far more objective onlooker and judge  when it comes to issues involving the Village of Kiryas Joel. In that case, they overturned a [state] Supreme Court decision and upheld Woodbury’s comprehensive plan that KJ was suing. So I’m hopeful that something similar will happen in this case where the Court of Appeals will look at this more objectively.” 

Skoufis’ opponent in the November election, Republican Colin Schmitt, called the case a government failure to protect area residents from what he said was Kiryas Joel's unchecked and uncontrolled growth. Again, Convers.

“I think that the pattern of injustice when it comes to Kiryas Joel litigation matters is troubling for the state of New York,” Convers says. “And I really hope that justice fighters like Preet Bharara are watching.”

She refers to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Kiryas Joel also has a proposal to annex 507 acres, a proposal that the Town of Monroe voted against and which is in court. In September, Village of Kiryas Joel leaders delivered a petition to the Orange County legislature in an effort to establish a Town of North Monroe. It is not clear how the court decision might affect this petition.

Copyright 2016 WAMC and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

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