KIRYAS JOEL - The Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel sits on just over a square mile, but its population has exploded to more than 20,000 people since it was founded in 1977.
As the village seeks to accommodate its growing size by rezoning undeveloped land in the town of Monroe, opponents are worried about traffic, population density, social service costs and added pressures on infrastructure.
Attorney Steven Barshov, who is representing the village in its quest for more space, says the reality is that the population will continue to grow whether 507 more acres are added or not. "Kiryas Joel is a growing community. It has been growing. It didn't start growing 10 minutes ago," he says. "That's the reality and the annexation isn't causing that."
The turf war between the village and the town has spurred accusations of fraud and political favoritism on one side, and accusations of anti-Semitism on the other. Opponents' fears about what will happen to their community were worsened after FBI agents were recently captured on video swarming a number of Hasidic-owned properties in Bloomingburg. Among the properties raided was the home of a Hasidic developer looking to build a controversial housing project within the village.
The FBI confirms that more than 20 search warrants were executed in Bloomingburg, but it would not say why or whether there was any connection to Kiryas Joel.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says that allegations aside, the reality is that neither community is going anywhere. "We have to work as a partnership on this," he says. "In the U.S., we have different peoples. We have different ethnic backgrounds, we have different cultures. We're a melting pot and that sometimes takes work."
Neuhaus says reaching a solution will take effort from both sides to bridge the cultural divide. "Right now, both sides are so charged up that they're sitting in their corners now and they're hunkering themselves in."