Monroe Delays Zoning Vote After Warning from AG

By Reuvain Borchardt

The Village of Monroe Town Hall. (Aaron Berger/Hamodia)

The Village of Monroe has delayed a vote on a new zoning law, after the New York Attorney General’s Office warned the village the that law violates the religious freedoms of Orthodox Jews.

News 12 Hudson Valley reports that at the meeting of the Village Board of Trustees Thursday night, Village attorney Alyse Terhune recommended that “instead of adopting Local Law 5 tonight, the board table this for the purpose of reaching out to the AG’s office and finding out what it is that they seem to be concerned with.”

The board did not vote on that law at Thursday’s meeting — but passed the other 12 proposals on the meeting’s agenda unanimously.

The Village of Monroe, located in Orange County just outside Kiryas Joel, has a sizable and growing minority of Orthodox Jews.

The proposed Local Law No. 5 restricts and regulates the use of houses of worship, the use of private homes as places of worship, and schools. The law’s legislative purpose says it seeks to “promote individual constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and free exercise of religion and to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of Village of Monroe residents.” But Jewish residents argue it is a thinly veiled attempt to keep their community from expanding.

A letter sent to the village this week in advance of Thursday’s meeting, signed by officials at the Attorney General Office’s Civil Rights Bureau, warned the village, “Proposed Local Law 5 appears to limit the ability of Orthodox Jews to practice their religion in violation of … state and federal laws. The OAG [Office of the Attorney General] is not persuaded that the law’s stated rationale is sufficient to justify those restrictions. To the extent the proposed law addresses legitimate health and safety concerns, the OAG is not persuaded that its requirements are the least restrictive means for achieving the law’s goals.”

The letter asked that the Village delays action on the law until the Attorney General’s Office “has had a thorough opportunity to evaluate the law,” and that the village provide the Attorney General’s Office with a written justification for the law by September 29 — with the implication that failure to do so may result in the Attorney General bringing legal action against the village.

Village officials did not respond to an emailed request for comment from Hamodia on Thursday.

Following news of the vote’s delay, Attorney General Letitia James wrote on X on Friday, “I won’t allow any form of antisemitism or discrimination in New York. That includes any attempt to pass laws that could discriminate against Orthodox Jewish communities or prevent groups of people from living where they choose.”

Rabbi Yakov Mayer Ferencz, a resident and activist in Monroe, told Hamodia, “We very much appreciate the decisive action that the attorney general has taken immediately upon being made aware of this proposed law. We are confident that with the help of the attorney general this law and other laws that are drafted to impede the growth of the Jewish community in Orange County will be quashed.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Village Board of Trustees is September 26

This the latest controversy that has arisen in villages and towns in upstate New York and in New Jersey, as Orthodox Jews have moved into the areas and proliferated.

Typically, the cases arise after the municipalities deny the Jews permits to erect a school, shul or an eruv. The municipalities, and the residents who support them, refuse these permits on the grounds that they violate local laws — and sometimes the municipalities enact new zoning laws as Orthodox populations grow. More broadly, some residents complain that allowing increased construction would lead to overdevelopment and change the suburban or rural nature of the areas. But the Orthodox communities allege that the residents are engaging in thinly veiled, or at times overt, antisemitic rhetoric and actions, passing and enforcing laws that serve to restrict Orthodox growth.

In nearly all cases where the Orthodox community has filed suit, they have either won or received favorable settlements, but often only after protracted and acrimonious legal battles — and often after the Attorney General of New York or New Jersey has gotten involved.

This letter from James’ office was an attempt to avoid a legal battle and head off this law before it passes.

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