Special Report: 'A Town Divided' Part 3 preview

Special Report: 'A Town Divided' Part 3 preview (4/17/14)

MONROE - Nestled in southern Orange County is the picturesque suburban commuter town of Monroe, where working families live in homes with picket-fence lined yards.

Also inside its borders lies a very different community, one that's private, intensely conservative and rapidly growing: the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel.

The two communities are finding themselves increasingly at odds as Kiryas Joel seeks to accommodate its expanding population. "We need more housing," a Kiryas Joel resident told News 12. "We have lots of children, and they marry, and they need more space."

MORE COVERAGE: Kiryas Joel land deal

READ: Documents on Kiryas Joel annexation

Deeply against the village's expansion plan is a group of Monroe residents called United Monroe. The group was formed during the Monroe town supervisor race between expansion opponent Emily Convers and Democrat Harley Doles back in November 2013. At the time, the Board of Elections said the turnout in town was unprecedented. Kiryas Joel residents cast their votes in a block, and current Supervisor Harley Doles was elected.

Just a month and a half after the election, the citizens of Kiryas Joel petitioned to annex 507 acres of mostly undeveloped, Hasidic-owned land. The plan would effectively double the size of their village, and it's space that Kiryas Joel residents say they desperately need.

But the plan has been widely met with criticism from Monroe residents. The turf war is being fueled by a culture clash that includes accusations of political motivations and anti-Semitism.

Opponents of the village's expansion are expressing concerns about what could happen if the deal goes through. "The zoning will be very, very high density," says United Monroe's Emily Convers. "Many, many apartments will be built immediately. We're looking at thousands and thousands more children, probably double, if not more."

Doles says criticism against him over the issue has turned into vandalism. The supervisor says he's gotten threats and that his car window has been smashed. While Doles denies any favoritism toward Kiryas Joel, the issue continues to spark fiery debate. Residents are packing into crowded and often heated town board meetings.

Public concerns about the potential expansion are supposed to be addressed by a designated lead agency, which will oversee a state environmental quality review, also known as an SEQR. Kiryas Joel, Monroe, the Monroe-Woodbury School District and Orange County have all asked the state for control over the process. So far, the school district has been denied because the state said it did not qualify for the position.

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