The Case Against Kiryas Joel Annexation (OpEd)


The Case Against Kiryas Joel Annexation (OpEd)

Since the June 10th Public Hearing on the proposed Kiryas Joel Annexation and the prior release of their Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS), the arguments for and against have become prevalent and heated, often reaching the crescendo of incendiary and outright bigotry.

AnnexationOn one side, the village of Kiryas Joel has argued for the approval of what is, in fact, an illegal annexation under existing state law, something that has not appeared to stop their cause. The petitioners’ pleas include the insistence that the “growing Hasidic community” — a religious case — will continue to grow and that families “must” be located in proximity to each other. That they require services in Yiddish. That homes — purchased with full knowledge of their location on country-roads without urban amenities — must be provided those amenities. And that, most egregious of all, any argument against the annexation must be a de facto statement of anti-Semitism.

AnnexationSeveral speakers were trotted before the microphones to go on record that anyone against the village’s pre-ordained decision is practicing a form of discrimination, easily likened to those people being Nazis, unsympathetic to their needs, and hateful in their intent. Supporters included a State Assemblyman from Brooklyn best known for his portrayal of blackface and both his cultural and prior racial insensitivity toward others (see our piece on Dov Hikind); an African-American resident of Newburgh who would be unable to live in the village, even if expanded, based on the prior on-camera responses of Village representatives (1); a Brooklyn Borough President, also African-American, and equally unaware of the community’s stance toward non-Satmar residency; and several others who expressed comments that ranged from lengthy diatribes on the horrors of the Holocaust to the “intolerance” of anyone opposing the village’s recommendation to annex either 507 acres or 164 acres (note that the hearing was unclear on which annexation proposal was under consideration).

There is another side to all of these arguments: One based largely in facts that were either misrepresented at the DGEIS Public Hearing or not clarified in the flawed annexation proposal. That same argument also debunks the arguments of those in favor of the annexation.

The Case Against Kiryas Joel Annexation

For this piece, it’s important to review point-by-point the fallacies in the pro-Annexation arguments, ones that were largely ignored by those who continue to call the opponents of this irresponsible and illegal action any series of racial or religious epithets.

Annexation Opponents are Anti-Semitic or Anti-Orthodox: False. The effort against annexation is based in state law, specifically state zoning law the cites the illegality of annexing neighboring land for the express purpose of changing zoning. The sheer fact is that a 507 acre annexation, based on the village’s own statements, would provide for up to 8,500 housing units. Each would be charged a water hookup fee of $25,000 to hook into a village water system that, itself, was over-capacitized to provide water from the Catskills-to-NYC Aqueduct. Kiryas Joel took a state-sponsored line of credit to fund the construction of that pipeline but has not made application for all of the necessary permits.

AnnexationWater usage and over-population is not an anti-Semitic/anti-Orthodox argument. And $25,000 per hookup would not only repay the bond, it would also create a huge operating fund for the village from surplus monies paid.

The fact is that many of the opponents are, themselves, Jewish, whether or not practicing Orthodoxy. In fact, the Kiryas Joel Alliance, which represents 40% of the residency of Kiryas Joel, placed a full-page advertisement in the Times Herald-Record denouncing the claims of anti-Semitism against the annexation opponents, acknowledging that the neighboring communities in Orange County have legitimate concerns that should be addressed. Those in that group are also Satmar Hasidim. Kiryas Joel’s leadership must question whether 40% of its own population, having spoken out about the name-calling, is also anti-Semitic.

Kiryas Joel will inevitably grow, and the annexation must happen as a result: False.

Growth is a “choice”. People choose to have children and raise families. That is both a right and privilege. Mandating that one group must live in a fashion that is in direct conflict to law and to the neighboring municipalities is neither right nor privilege. When the practice of having children exceeds a family’s ability to fund the cost of housing, feeding, clothing, and properly educating that child, that choice becomes a significant burden to other county residents who, too, have made choices that they can responsibly afford. Those costs cannot continue to be a burden to Orange County or New York, regardless of religious beliefs.

When the attorney representing Kiryas Joel asked whether they should spread out across Orange County or elsewhere, he was met with applause, not because of an anti-Semitic or racist overtone, but because no group has a right to dictate their choice of location to any other. If there is no zoned, buildable land in a specific area, you neither violate the law nor insist that others must sacrifice to address the wishes of one.

Kiryas Joel’s population would be better served in an existing brownfield area that has the infrastructure and location to address their needs. The City of Newburgh, which has such an infrastructure (water, sewerage, buildable land that could be reclaimed) could prove an example of such an urban renewal if not for the heavy social services cost to Orange County taxpayers (don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a moment).

The fallacy is that the growth “must” occur in this location, and that government “must” provide a solution. Neither is the case, government is under no obligation to provide of create a solution any more than it is for any community.

Annexation will have no impact on the environment: FALSE!

AnnexationThis is a huge issue, and strikes at the heart of the proposal. Here are some impacts of the annexation, and issues not adequately addressed by the very flawed DGEIS:

  • Rezoning of 507 acres from RR-1 and RR-3 to high-density housing (22 units per acre). To accomplish this, all open-space would berezoned, flattened, and largely paved with impermeable surfaces. This will impact a number of factors that include:
    • Storm-water run-off
    • Pollution
    • Traffic increase
    • Additional effluent into the Ramapo watershed (already at or above capacity)
    • Additional strain on Sewer District #1 (already at or above capacity).
  • Traffic patterns. The current traffic flow to/from Kiryas Joel is accomplished only via 2-lane roads without highway expansion, placing strain on neighboring municipalities to handle traffic to/from the village. The annexation would increase this by a factor of 3. No road improvements are included in the DGEIS.
  • Impact on public lands/trails/parks. Gonzaga Park features prominently within the annexation zone, as do two multi-state hiking trails that would be interrupted by development. No consideration for those factors has been cited in the DGEIS.

This is not even a complete list, and stating the full case would take pages and pages to comment. Instead the complete DGEIS is provided here, and the response of Orange County planners is provided here.

Annexation is in the public interest: FALSE.

AnnexationAnnexation is purely in the interest of a small set of developers who will profit handsomely from the construction of cheap apartments/condominiums on the territory. Those properties will not be available for realtor listings on any public site, but will be published purely for Hasidic buyers and landlords seeking to profit as well from a desire of those currently living in other areas to inhabit the village.

Annexation would be against the public interest as it would create a massive tax burden on county and state taxpayers to shoulder social services costs, not limited to:

  • Medicaid (93% of residents)
  • Food Stamps/SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
  • Housing subsidies (Section 8)

…and the list goes on. Kiryas Joel, while stating that it does not partake of other county services offered (such as education or prison services), actually is the heaviest consumer of benefits in Orange County, and those numbers will continue to grow. Moreover, the statement of KJ residents not using the county correctional system is false as well, attested by several convicted sex offenders who live in the village after having been convicted of crimes against others, primarily pedophilia.

Annexation opponents are hate mongers, should be likened to Nazis/Hitler: FALSE!

This is unequivocally false, and any representation of such, while incendiary and attention grabbing, is itself very hateful and more indicative of actions attributable to the Nazi regime. A few facts to dispel this, and none of these in any way endorses either ethnic or religious hate, nor the atrocities of the Holocaust which we all find repugnant.

  • Incendiary statements about those not of one background. Here, the Satmars are far more responsible for the cold treatment of their neighbors, and the insistence that those who are not Satmars are inferior. Sound familiar to students of history.
  • Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Fifty million people of all religions were killed in the Holocaust. This doesn’t make light of the loss of one religion or culture in an atrocity, but negating the impact on all or blaming others is equally reprehensible and irresponsible. Factually, many descendants of World War II soldiers who liberated the Concentration Camps are also residents of Orange County. To these people, the Satmars owe their very existence today, and maligning them does a great injustice to their work, especially given the objection of the Hasidim to both military service, and to the Zionist state of Israel.
  • The Nazi regime was best known for the confiscation of land and property to be used by the Third Reich. Which is essentially what Kiryas Joel is attempting now.
  • The Annexation seeks to include only Satmar/Jewish individuals, and the annexation lines drawn have carefully excluded those who have non-Hasidic/non-Jewish backgrounds. If one considers the atrocities of the Nazi regime in their segregation and exclusion as repulsive, one must also consider such discrimination as equally repulsive.

An injustice against one becomes an injustice against all.

Annexation is a legal right: False in the current context.

AnnexationIn addition to the zoning issues discussed above, annexation toward Kiryas Joel would extend a theocracy, thereby violating the separation of Church and State defined in the Constitution. It’s also a segregation against those who are not of Hasidic Jewish background, thereby becoming a case of discrimination. Moreover, since Kiryas Joel receives federal money from HUD for Section 8 administration, by not permitted non-Satmar residency in favor of catering specifically to creating a religious enclave, they’ve continued to violate legal rulings, as well as the use of federal monies.

Some other short subjects:

  • Kiryas Joel Annexation will not affect the Monroe Woodbury School District: False. Both the 164 and 507 acres fall within the MWCSD’s borders, and their votes would eventually outnumber all others in the district. Unless both districts agree to change their borders, this would continue, and there is no incentive for KJ to alter their borders and lose access to the MWCSD resources and budget. What is happening in East Ramapo now is an example of what would happen if the KJ Annexation were to be approved.
  • Kiryas Joel Annexation will not affect home prices: False. They’ve already deflated home prices based on the prospect of annexation, and approval will impact them further.
  • AnnexationKiryas Joel’s Fire Department will not require mutual aid: False. KJ Firefighters cannot fight interior fires, which requires that neighboring municipalities put their volunteers at risk to support a community that will not.
  • Kiryas Joel Annexation will not impact quality of life in the Hudson Valley: False. It will remove natural resources, squander existing resources for the benefit of a few, and create a precedent based on a flawed legal interpretation.
  • Properties on the routes to Kiryas Joel are on back-roads without sidewalks or streetlights, amenities that are required. Rather than say “true” or “false”, let’s review the facts.
    • One: The traffic on those roads is headed in primarily one direction: To or From Kiryas Joel. If there are vehicles speeding or driving unsafely, look no further than those in KJ.
    • Two: Most other properties in the Town or Village of Monroe lack those same amenities. Anyone who purchased with an eye to anything other than speculation would have known this, making their arguments rather slanted toward eventual annexation.
    • Three: No one put a gun to someone’s head telling them to purchase a property without those amenities. If that’s the house they wanted — with street-lights and sidewalks and without wild-animals, everyone else in Monroe shares the same conditions. Don’t buy in Monroe.
    • Four: None of those property owners approached the Town of Monroe about those requests, and had they done so, they would have gotten a response.

Our view.

Kiryas Joel’s Annexation, whether the 164 acre or 507 acre version, sets the wrong example by creating a theocratic government that is not and has never been transparent about its intentions, has not been a good steward of the environment, and does not protect the interests of the residents of Orange County. The voting bloc it would create would further serve to disenfranchise the voters of Orange County, and especially those of Monroe. This is not an action in the interest of anyone other than the current Monroe and Kiryas Joel governments

Over 9,000 people responded to the petition for Governor Cuomo to sign into law bills passed by the State Senate and Assembly to give counties greater oversight and influence in annexations. We encourage your activism by calling Governor Cuomo’s Office in Albany at 518-474-8390, and select option #3 to speak with a representative during regular business hours. Tell Governor Cuomo to heed the will of the people and not the special interests, and sign this important legislation into law.

The KJ Annexation is not in the public interest. It’s in a purely misplaced sell-interest that puts segregation ahead of the assimilation by our ancestry in this country. It puts religion above good government. It puts the will of a politically connected few above the interests of the many. And it contorts the facts in such a way to smear every resident of New York that opposes such egregious activity as “Anti-Semitic”.

It’s time for the hatred to stop, and time for the leadership of Kiryas Joel to end it. By continuing this course of action, they put themselves on a collision course with others that has no positive outcome for their own cause.

Responsible replies invited.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include the previously missing link to the 1994 Interview that aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes”.

(1) Satmar Kiryas Joel on 60 Minutes, Interviewing Joseph Waldman, Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Netura Karta, KJ Mayor Abraham Wieder, Mier Werthimer.

Managing Editor