Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
A little more than one year ago, residents of Kiryas Yoel in Monroe, NY, were pleased to learn that their village officials had initiated the necessary procedures to annex an additional 117 properties adjacent to its present borders. In the past, strong opposition to annexation had been anticipated. The cost and time of defending annexation in the courts had been considered prohibitive. As an alternative, the less-costly course of creating new (chassidic) villages had been seriously considered, though that, too, would have faced fierce opposition.
Nevertheless, with the continued growth, increase in population, and ever-increasing demand for housing, an application has been submitted to the Village of Kiryas Yoel, and to the Town and Village of Woodbury, by a coalition of the subject 112 property owners of the 117 properties. The receipt by the Town and Village of Woodbury, as well as by the Village of Kiryas Yoel, propels the respective boards to convene and affirm the “annexation,” transferring the subject properties, totaling more than 800 acres, to the regulatory authority of Kiryas Yoel. Today, Kiryas Yoel encompasses 704 acres. The annexation will more than double Kiryas Yoel.
Formally established in 1977, Kiryas Yoel was founded by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt’l (1893–1979), revered Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel. The community began with but 14 families on approximately 400 acres. In 1983, under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, zt’l (1914–2006), successor Satmar Rebbe and author of Beirach Moshe, Kiryas Yoel expanded to meet its growing population by annexing more than 300 acres. Since then, Kiryas Yoel has continued to grow at phenomenal rates, ranking it among the fastest-growing villages in the United States. The 2010 census shows a population of 20,175, and it has grown to almost 25,000 at present. In contemplating continued future growth, community leaders indicate that there are presently 8,000 young women under the age of 18 living in Kiryas Yoel. Assuming that almost all will marry and continue to live in the community, and that outsiders will immigrate to Kiryas Yoel from Williamsburg, Boro Park, etc., village planners must assume that an additional 8,000 apartments will be needed to house them. Accordingly, community leaders must take all necessary steps to accommodate that future growth.
After successfully annexing the additional 800 acres, those properties will come under the zoning rules and regulations of Kiryas Yoel. Though at present the properties—most of which are privately owned and controlled by Satmar chassidim—are under the nominal direction of community leaders, the zoning regulations that apply to them are those of their present townships and villages. After annexation, the zoning restrictions will be relaxed. The largest vacant tracts targeted for annexation are west of Kiryas Yoel and are located mostly in areas presently zoned for three-acre-minimum residential lots, a sharp contrast to Kiryas Yoel’s multifamily condominium housing. Other properties targeted for annexation are in areas in which Monroe already allows for limited multi-apartments.
The annexation process is, of course, protracted. Three separate entities are involved: the private owners of the properties, the present municipal administration wherein they are situated, and the municipal administration in which they intend to be included. The coalition of private owners is the applicant. As the application was prepared, attorneys and other professionals were consulted to assure that all municipal requirements were fulfilled. Environmental impacts and other considerations were fully addressed. As the map of the area was studied, all comments were thoroughly reviewed and every possible objection was contemplated.
On Friday, December 27, 2013, the annexation application was formally submitted by the alliance of property owners to the Town of Monroe, the Town and Village of Woodbury, and the Village of Kiryas Yoel to effect the annexation of the 800 acres. Routinely, such annexation procedures take from six to nine months. However, opposition has already been voiced by adversaries, especially those who would be residing on the border of Kiryas Yoel following annexation. Fears of increased taxation, traffic, and water usage that would result from the higher-density housing have repeatedly been expressed by that opposition.
Some of the opposition voiced their dissatisfaction with the potentially increased population living directly across the road. Having bought or built their homes in what was a rural country setting, they now fear crowding and urbanization. Complaints of increased traffic are voiced along with stiff resistance to widening roads to allow for buses. However, automobile usage in Kiryas Yoel is relatively light. While tens of thousands of other Orange County households are two-car families, women in Kiryas Yoel do not drive. That means that there is considerably less traffic in and around Kiryas Yoel than anywhere else in Orange County.
The preferred modes of transit in Kiryas Yoel are walking and taking public transportation. Men, women, and children travel by bus from early morning to late evening. Local shoppers’ buses account for more than a half-million passenger trips each year, and hundreds of commuters use private bus shuttle service to travel to their jobs in Rockland County and New York City. An astounding 52% of all public transportation use in Orange County is by residents of Kiryas Yoel.
Increased water availability is necessary for the continued growth of Kiryas Yoel. In spite of elements that were opposed to its expansion and growth, a $29 million water project was approved in 2004 by almost every relevant governmental and ecological organization, and $20 million was granted by the federal government. The project was designed to raise the water table for everyone within Orange County, to supply at least 1.1 million gallons per day. In the county legislature, opponents argued that they were not fully consulted. On the streets and in newspapers, opponents have continued to argue that they feel an obligation to contain rampant “Brooklynization.”
Harley Doles, the new Monroe Town Supervisor who was elected with the overwhelming vote of Kiryas Yoel residents, is suggesting that Kiryas Yoel, presently a village in Monroe, separate itself from Monroe by becoming an independent city or town. Interestingly, if Kiryas Yoel does becomes its own city or town, Doles will have effectively separated himself from the voting bloc that put him into office.
Though opposed in many different venues, amazingly, Kiryas Yoel continues to grow. The new start-up chassidishe community in Bloomingburg, NY, is also being challenged at every phase of its growth process. Nevertheless, the demand for housing in Williamsburg, regardless of its high price tag, overwhelms the present and contemplated supply. Alternative affordable housing simply does not exist in Williamsburg or anywhere nearby. The further continuous expansion of Kiryas Yoel, as well as of Bloomingburg and other near-future chassidishe communities, is as certain as the sun coming up. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.