Agudah, Elected Officials Praise Cuomo for Kiryas Joel Veto

ALBANY -

Jewish groups and elected officials praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo for vetoing bills that would have made it all but impossible for the village of Kiryas Joel to proceed with a planned annexation of nearby land to accommodate their growth.

Officials from Kiryas Joel, 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.

The proposal to make the village up to 70 percent larger would ultimately have to be approved by people living within the annexed area, who belong to the same Orthodox Jewish community as Kiryas Joel residents.

One bill vetoed by Cuomo last Thursday 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.

In his veto message, Cuomo cited several concerns that had been raised by Rabbi Mordechai Biser, Agudath Israel’s counsel, in a memorandum.

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.”

Agudah leader Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel thanked Cuomo for the action, and urged all sides to cooperate on the continued project.

“What was especially troubling about these bills,” said Rabbi Zwiebel, “was that nobody before had ever suggested that the well-settled annexation process be burdened by additional layers of complicated hurdles. For some reason, the alleged weaknesses of the existing process were discovered only now in the specific context of a Chassidic community seeking to accommodate its organic growth. It is gratifying that Governor Cuomo saw these facially neutral bills for what they really were: an effort to prevent the community of Kiryas Joel from growing.”

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton, a Crown Heights Democrat, said that Cuomo made the “right decision.”

“As I explained on the Senate floor when I voted ‘no,’” Hamilton said in a statement Tuesday, “I believe the bills unjustly impact the citizens of Kiryas Joel. The residents of Kiryas Joel deserve the same standards that obtain in other communities across the state.”