Cuomo vetoes Kiryas Joel bill

An insular Hasidic Jewish village in the Hudson Valley tallied a victory this week as Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that could have derailed a request to annex neighboring land, an effort that has raised tensions between the quickly growing enclave and surrounding suburban communities.

Officials from the Kiryas Joel village in Orange County are overseeing an environmental review of a request to annex up to 507 acres adjacent to the village in the town of Monroe, about 50 miles north of New York City.

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews say the village needs the additional land, but many people in the surrounding suburbs fear congestion from a spread of multifamily apartment buildings like the ones packed into the 1.1-square-mile village.

The proposal to make the village up to 70 percent larger would ultimately have to be approved by people living within the annexed area, which is populated by the same Satmar who requested the annexation and live under more restrictive zoning that favors single-family homes.

One bill vetoed by Cuomo would have given county planning departments a role in reviewing such annexation petitions, allowing them to send recommendations of approval or disapproval to the municipalities. Municipal boards wishing to override a recommended disapproval would need to muster a supermajority vote.

Cuomo in a veto message released late Wednesday said giving counties power over local annexations that don't affect county boundaries violates the state constitution. Cuomo also vetoed a companion bill that would give the state environmental commissioner additional power in municipal disputes, saying it was duplicative and too broad.

Ari Felberman, Kiryas Joel's government relations coordinator, thanked the governor for ignoring "angry rhetoric" from the bill's sponsor and for looking "at these bills for what they really were, a thinly veiled attempt to stop the natural growth of the peaceful, family-oriented community of Kiryas Joel."

Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus said he was disappointed in Cuomo's veto, adding that their own study found the annexation would be bad for the county. A leader of a local residents' group fighting the annexation said it looked like Cuomo was bowing to a political bloc at the expense of other residents.

"We believe he chose to play politics instead of listening to the will of the people," said United Monroe chairwoman Emily Convers.

Kiryas Joel was founded within the town of Monroe in the mid-1970s by members of the Satmar sect seeking a more tranquil setting than Brooklyn. Men in the village wear black suits with brimmed hats and women dress modestly. Families are large at Kiryas Joel, which has grown from about 12,000 in 1994 to around 22,000.

The boards of Monroe and Kiryas Joel are expected to vote on the environmental review by early September.

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