Orange County, NY – In Historic Agreement, KJ And United Monroe To Split Into Separate Entities
Orange County, NY – In a development that could end years of costly legal battles, Kiryas Joel and representatives of the United Monroe citizens group have agreed to the equivalent of an amicable divorce, splitting the Village of Kiryas Joel off into a separate town that would include an unspecified amount of additional acreage to accommodate future growth.
The agreement was announced on Friday night on United Monroe’s Facebook page and would end three years of bitter infighting that resulted when Kiryas Joel announced its plan to annex more than several hundred acres of neighboring land into the village.
The new town would be the first created in New York State in 35 years, with a revised map of the proposed unnamed town to be provided to county lawmakers this week, reported The Times Herald Record
The exact details of the agreement, the result of two months of hush-hush negotiations, have yet to be disclosed, but United Monroe said that new acreage allotted to Kiryas Joel would be considerably less than the 382 acres specified in the village’s latest petition.
The plan still needs to pass muster with both the county legislature and voters in the Town of Monroe. Once that hurdle has been cleared, the issue would be included on the ballot in the upcoming November 7th election.
United Monroe’s Facebook post generated dozens of comments, with the group blaming Kiryas Joel for refusing to negotiate a separation for the past three years and noting that spinning the village off into a new entity would remove Kiryas Joel’s influence in matters concerning Monroe residents.
Both Emily Convers, head of United Monroe, and Kiryas Joel administrator Gedalya Szegedin, expressed their appreciation to all parties involved for their efforts in reaching an equitable compromise.
A School District Whose Children Have Been Raped of an Education and $3M in State Aid
It does not matter in East Ramapo whether you are Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular, Hispanic, Black, White, or Green because all of East Ramapo’s children have been deprived of an education.
In the public schools in East Ramapo despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and activists the resources have been scarce and the schools in disrepair, leaving the public school children to study without proper textbooks, in classrooms known to leak during rainstorms. The schools of that district barely offer core classes. There are few art classes, if any and music is a luxury.
The public schools in East Ramapo, once the best in the State, lack the resources necessary to provide an education consistent with New York State mandates. Funding is grossly inadequate and the Board of Education, comprised in disproportionate part of ultra-Orthodox men blames the State.
There is no acknowledgement on the part of the Trustees of the East Ramapo Board of Education and their spokespeople that money has been siphoned off for years for the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox religious education. The premise has been that there are more private school, Yeshiva educated children and more resources should be provided for their edcuation. Separation of Church and State be damned.
In contrast the private Yeshivas, funded with public taxpayer money, have the resources but the children are deprived an education by an establishment which actively chains them to functional illiteracy, mathematical ignorance and a non-science based religious education… in Yiddish. Separation of Church and State, an unknown concept.
Presently there is a public meeting at Rockland Community College, located in East Ramapo intended to explain how $3M in New York State aid will be allocated. Perhaps Church and State can walk on separate sides of the road….
Lohud reported on September 27, 2016
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6
The state education commissioner has approved the East Ramapo school district’s plan for using $3 million in state aid to create universal full-day kindergarten and restore arts programs in grades K-6, among other initiatives.
Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday that she had given her blessing to the plan, and also said she would join state-appointed monitors Charles Szuberla and John Sipple at a public meeting to discuss the initiatives at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, 145 College Road, Ramapo.
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6, according to a district spokesperson.
The district conducted its own public hearing to receive community input on the expenditure plan on Sept. 7. The school board approved the plan on Sept. 13 and it was submitted to Elia on Sept. 20.
“These plans represent the district’s path forward to ensure progress continues and to ensure the educational rights of every East Ramapo student are met,” Commissioner Elia said in a statement. “Chuck Szuberla, John Sipple and Superintendent Wortham have worked as quickly as possible to put a long-term strategic academic and fiscal improvement plan in place that is both thorough and thoughtful. It continues the work already done to repair the trust of the East Ramapo community, while recognizing there is still work to do.”
The $3 million in supplemental funding was approved under a state oversight law that required the development of the strategic academic plan, as well as a comprehensive expenditure plan, in consultation with Szuberla.
In 2012, East Ramapo went from full-day to half-day kindergarten amid $14 million worth of budget cuts. Last year, two sections were added. Four new full-day kindergarten classes were included in the district’s $224 million budget approved by voters in May.
Here’s what’s being proposed for the $3 million:
$1.2 million to hire six monolingual kindergarten teachers and four bilingual kindergarten teachers.
Up to 11 sections of full-day kindergarten would be created, depending upon the number of children who enroll.
The bulk of kindergarten funding, $670,000, would go towards salaries, while the remainder would cover classroom materials, instructional technology and building adjustments to accommodate new classes.
Restoring art, music, dance and theater classes for students in grades K-6 will cost around $1.7 million.
The district aims to hire 12 teachers for arts instruction, the majority of whom were previously laid off and are on the preferred eligibility list (PELL).
RAMAPO – A year ago, a grassroots group called CUPON was formed by a Hillcrest resident who saw an urgent need to keep the area’s development in check.
Since then, that group has helped a handful of similar organizations spring up around Ramapo, a town with a long history of civic activism. They all share concerns similar to CUPON’s, which stands for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods.
“What we wanted to do is, instead of having a big CUPON for Ramapo, we wanted an individual area to have its own CUPON-like organization,” said Micheal Miller, who started the group in Hillcrest and has subsequently helped organize other neighborhoods. “Then, if you go to a (municipal board) meeting, you’re going to be representatives of your area,” he said. “That carries much more weight than if we go as one organization.”
Ramapo is Rockland County’s fastest-growing town, home to an estimated 126,595 people with 12 villages. In recent months, new groups focused on controlling development have formed in such areas as Monsey, New Hempstead, Airmont and Chestnut Ridge.
“The goal is to empower the other members of the community,” said Hilda Kogut, who launched CUPON Chestnut Ridge this spring, noting that many of her fellow villagers have begun speaking up at village meetings about their concerns. “We’re making some progress.”
What activists are up against is substantial: More than 3,000 homes are proposed or could be proposed for large pieces of land that changed hands in recent years, according to Miller, who compiled the information based on property sale records and other sources. In addition to the 197-acre property in the Route 202-306 corridor just outside of Pomona where the controversial 479-unit Patrick Farm development was proposed, the list of parcels include the 130-acre Minisceongo Golf Club property on Pomona Road and the 145-acre former Edwin Gould Academy site in Chestnut Ridge.
Based on ongoing trends, those properties could potentially be developed into higher-density housing catering to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish families from outside the county, Miller said.
“They are bringing in Brooklyn to Ramapo,” Miller said. “It’s going to become an extension of New York City.”
Orthodox Jews share concern
Tension between religious and non-religious communities has been on the rise in Rockland for the past several years, fueled by strained relations between members of the East Ramapo school community and its school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish residents who send their children to private schools.
But over-development is a shared concern in her Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, said Shani Bechhofer of Monsey, who has lived in a community called Viola Estates for more than a decade. A major housing development, also called Viola Estates, is under construction on a nearby 5.5-acre property on Viola Road, even though Bechhofer and her neighbors expressed their opposition before the Ramapo Planning Board, she said.
They formed a grassroots organization, Viola Estates Residents Allied for Integrity, which is also being assisted by Miller.
“The more we were educated, the more we began to understand the issues that are affecting us, not just this development,” Bechhofer said. “That’s why we named our organization ‘Allied for Integrity.'”
Bechhofer said she was “disheartened” by the town’s response when she and her neighbors reported to officials that more units than planned were being built there. The property, formerly owned by Temple Beth El, was originally zoned for single-family homes allowing 1.74 units per acre, or a total 10 units for the site. In July 2013, the developer was granted a zone change to allow for eight units per acre, or 44 units on 5.5 acres.
As construction moved along, neighbors saw that the basements in each unit had been turned into what they saw as accessory apartments, according to a letter they sent to the town. Ramapo officials acknowledged the work done was not according to the plans but, instead of requiring the developer to follow the existing plans, officials approved revised plans that included a “finished lower level.”
In June, three neighbors sued Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, Building Inspector Anthony Mallia and Viola Gardens LLC., the owner of the property, over the issue. Town Attorney Michael Klein has told The Journal News the lawsuit lacks merit. Attorney Steven Mogel, who was recently retained by the neighbors, said Friday that the lawsuit, filed in Putnam County Court to avoid any potential conflict in Rockland County Court, was expected to be discontinued because of procedural issues, but “it doesn’t mean that the efforts that the neighbors have engaged in are over.”
Miller, for his part, has been leading the effort to stop a 20-unit housing development, Bluefield Extension, on the 1-acre site on the east side of Union Road in Hillcrest, along the Monsey border. The property was originally zoned for single-family homes.
“This would set a precedent,” Miller said. “If they are allowed to build that, they can come into Hillcrest and do the same thing where they want to.”
From 2000 to 2010, Ramapo’s total population grew by 16.2 percent, while the statewide population grew 2.1 percent and the county’s grew 8.7 percent. The biggest increases within Ramapo were seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages of New Square and Kaser, which grew by 50.2 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Montebello village saw a 22.7 percent increase, and unincorporated Ramapo, including Monsey and Hillcrest, grew by 20.9 percent.
In addition to over-development, community activists keep an eye on issues such as illegal conversions of homes, zoning and code violations, and so-called “blockbusting,” the practice of persuading homeowners to sell their property cheaply by suggesting that changes in neighborhood demographics will destroy their property values.
“Some of the villages and areas are going through all of those issues, while others are going through only some of them,” Miller said. “But, eventually, every one of them is going to affect every area.”
Leaders of the newly formed community groups say they want town officials to stop “spot zoning” — which they think has become too common — to accommodate high-density housing development. They also want officials to enforce zoning codes more stringently.
Kogut, a retired FBI special agent who moved to Rockland decades ago as a child, said she doesn’t want her community to be overcrowded.
“If we were constructing homes for people in this county who had no place to live, I would not have been so offended,” she said.
Klein, the town attorney, said the town is trying meet the needs of different groups, the largest town in New York state outside of several on Long Island.
“We have many groups in the town who criticize us for not providing enough housing and enough development. We have other groups in the community that criticize us for providing too much development. So it’s a difficult balance that the Town Board needs to strike between what is appropriate, manageable development, and what might not be,” he said. “While I understand people have different views, particularly where it affects their immediate community, many people have different opinions on what’s appropriate development and what’s not.”
We are sharing it with our readers because Kiryas Joel became a blueprint for the many battles that have followed and that continue today. Perhaps history should have told us something. Just down the Thruway into Ramapo, the same battles are being fought and similar battle lines drawn.
Following the 287/87 Corridor into Lakewood and Toms River is another similar battle, both to some extent following the same pattern as Kiryas Joel had years earlier. In both cases, the ones hurt the most are the public school or non-religious children, which in the case of Ramapo are comprised in large part of African American and Hispanic children.
Is it not about time that we as a country decide if we want to remain a Constitutional Democracy or a Theocracy?
Thanks to our contributor on this one. – Lost Messiah June 13, 2016
Chicago Review Press Post about Kiryas Joel Book
Mar 23, 2016
March 21, 2016 • Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes: Louis Grumet and John Caher, authors of The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel
By Meaghan Miller
Louis Grumet and John Caher are the authors of The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State. Here, they talk with us about their book—which reveals a true story that took place over 20 years ago—and why the case remains significant today.
The Supreme Court case regarding the small town of Kiryas Joel became a landmark account that threatened the First Amendment. Can you tell us briefly the history of the town, and what exactly they were requesting of the New York State government?
The Village of Kiryas Joel was established in the 1970s as something of a refuge by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect who sought, in essence, a religious and cultural oasis where their children would not have to mix with or be influenced by the outside world or the public schools. They bought up vacant farmland, slowly subdivided the land, and populated it solely with members of the group. Once they had the requisite 600 inhabitants, they invoked a little-known state law and declared the community a village–Kiryas Joel, or “village of Joel,” after the founder. They kept to themselves and, at first, simply wanted to be left alone to raise their families and educate their children, on their terms and in private schools, in this little enclave. A crisis arose because of the large number of disabled children in the village, and the villagers’ inability to provide expensive educational services. In 1989, they used their considerable political clout to persuade the New York State legislature and then Governor Mario Cuomo to give the sect a “public” school for special education, marking the first time in American history that a government unit was established for a religious organization. This school would be used only by the children of a theocratic village, and it would be funded primarily by state and federal tax dollars.
Can you explain why a group like the Satmar holds such significant political leverage?
Although the community is small, the residents almost uniformly vote as they are directed by the rabbi. Consequently, the rabbi is in a position to promise—and deliver—thousands of votes. They also contribute significantly to political candidates who fulfill their requests and, when so motivated, can spark a most effective phone bank. They have no allegiance to either party and will deliver their votes and money to, basically, the highest bidder.
How do the Satmar differ from other groups that choose to separate themselves from the rest of society, like the Amish, for example?
There is a huge difference. The Amish simply want to be left alone in their self-sufficiency and do not expect, or even want, government aid. Kiryas Joel likes to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants total isolation to the extent possible, but they also want every penny of taxpayer money they can get for education, health services, water treatment, housing, and bus transportation, you name it. To be clear, I do not object to their acceptance of government aid, any more than I object to any other citizen or community receiving aid. But when they demand taxpayer money to advance religious interests, that is a problem.
Lou Grumet Credit: Megan Groppe
Lou, you had a close relationship with Governor Mario Cuomo at the time these initial events occurred. Please share with us the backstory of how you found yourself in the middle of this breach of ethics in the first place, and why you went on to become the plaintiff in the court case.
I worked for Mario Cuomo several years before these events occurred. At the time of their occurrence, I was the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. I considered the governor a friend, mentor, and constitutional scholar, so I went to see him when I heard about the bill and asked him to veto it as a blatantly unconstitutional assault on the Establishment Clause. Governor Cuomo was dismissive with me and shrugged, “Who is going to sue me?” I told him I would, then convinced my association to take on, bravely, the most powerful man in the state. Then, I turned it over to our bright young lawyer, Jay Worona, who would live the case—and defeat the legal Goliaths sent to oppose him—for years to come.
This case took place in 1994—22 years ago. Why is now the time to be telling this story?
For one thing, church-state tension is a constant in American law and American politics, and this was a definitive Supreme Court case that set the boundaries of church-state relationships under the First Amendment. For another, just up the road from Kiryas Joel a similar sect is doing the same sort of thing in East Ramapo. There, the Hasidic community expanded to the point where it could and did take over the local school board, and proceeded to close schools and eliminate programs used largely by black and Hispanic families. It is a boiling cauldron, and in many ways Kiryas Joel was the blueprint. And finally, in recent years the Supreme Court has been rolling back the protections my case preserved, culminating in the 5–4 Hobby Lobby decision that effectively said corporations can impose religious restrictions on their employees. The architect of that backsliding was largely the recently deceased Justice Scalia, who wrote a scathing (and bombastic, I might add) dissent in the Kiryas Joel case. The political battle over Scalia’s successor comes at a crucial crossroad.
John Caher Credit: Robert D. Mayberger
These days, hardly a month goes by without religious freedom being called into question in the news or in a courtroom—from companies that refuse to provide healthcare they object to, to businesses refusing to serve certain people, all based on so-called religious grounds. Do you see your case against Kiryas Joel acting as an important cautionary tale in these ongoing debates on what constitutes religious freedom?
Very much so! If we had lost the case, there would be no reason a group of religious extremists could not buy up vacant land, declare themselves a village, and then demand that the government give them a public school to indoctrinate their children. I firmly believe that if we had not pursued this case, the “wall of separation” that Thomas Jefferson urged between church and state would have begun crumbling. And we have ample evidence throughout history (both ancient and very recent) of what occurs when that happens–chaos, bloodshed and, ultimately, the end of liberty. The natural tension between freedom of religion and freedom from religion is perpetual, and those of us who believe in both rights—the right to worship (or not) as one sees fit and the right to be free from government-sanctioned religious interference—must be eternally vigilant. In the end, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are at stake.
-compiled by Caitlin Eck
The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel officially publishes on April 1, 2016. It is available wherever books (and e-books) are sold.
“[A] readable look at the nitty-gritty of New York’s political machine.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Grumet passionately lets the reader know where he stands.”—Booklist
Those who claim that over 93% of their population is poor own huge tracts of land surrounding Kiryas Joel.
Again we ask a very simple question.
Where is the money coming from that allows rich landowners to receive public assistance while buying up massive amounts of additional land where they intend to put up brand new multifamily housing for future additional families to claim that they are also living in abject poverty?
How can this massive population expansion occur in an area where there is no infrastructure, and no manufacturing businesses to offer any form of employment?
This article is from 2014 but now in 2016 Rockland County is apparently being subjected to aggressive blockbusting. Are areas of Orange County and Rockland County subject to some form of a land grab forcing property fire sales and if so why is this happening?
Kiryas Joel annexation attempt: Map shows Hasidic inventory
Posted Feb. 7, 2014 at 2:00 AM
Updated Feb 7, 2014 at 10:14 AM
The blunt title says it all: “Map of Hasidic Jewish land owners Surrounding Kiryas Joel.”
It’s dated Jan. 14, and it was drawn by the same engineering firm that mapped the 507-acre annexation request delivered to Monroe Town Hall a few weeks earlier. It appears to represent the broader territorial ambitions of Kiryas Joel’s leaders and landholders.
The map, provided to the Times Herald-Record with no information about who commissioned it or why, shows neighborhoods outside Kiryas Joel that are largely occupied by Hasidic families, and large, undeveloped tracts with Hasidic owners, stretching from the former Lake Anne Country Club in Blooming Grove to Larkin Drive in Monroe. Most of the vacant land was scooped up years ago, presumably to await the next expansion push.
The entire inventory of Hasidic-owned tax parcels take up a total area of 6.25 square miles, including the 1.1 square miles of Kiryas Joel at its core, according to the map made by the Monroe office of AFR Engineering and Land Surveying.
Kiryas Joel leaders have long weighed various strategies for commandeering more territory, whether through annexation or by forming another village or town. Neighboring communities, meanwhile, have taken preemptive steps to protect their zoning by forming the villages of Woodbury and South Blooming Grove in 2006.
For now, the petition to move 507 acres of Monroe into Kiryas Joel is the only proposed border shift under consideration. No such requests have been made in Woodbury or Blooming Grove, although Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan said he expects to see one soon.
“We’re anticipating some kind of annexation attempt in the near future,” he said. “We feel it’s going to be coming fairly quickly.”
AFR’s map indicates that Hasidic-owned properties outside Kiryas Joel total 900 acres in Monroe, 1,100 acres in Woodbury and 1,300 acres in Blooming Grove.
Two-thirds of the Blooming Grove land consists of the former Lake Anne Country Club, an 851-acre property that Hasidic investors bought for $15 million in 2006. The ownership group, whose development plans have never materialized, filed for bankruptcy in November to stave off foreclosure. In court papers, the owners say they’ve clashed with South Blooming Grove officials “over the scope and density of the proposed development,” but are now formulating “a more workable development plan” to win village approval.
Mayor Robert Jeroloman said in response Thursday that the owners have never submitted a formal subdivision plan and have given no indication what they are considering now.
“The hangup is that they keep filing litigation after litigation, trying to change the zoning for this property,” he said.
Two lawsuits to undo Woodbury’s zoning are pending in state Supreme Court. One was filed in 2011 by Kiryas Joel and affiliated plaintiffs, who demanded that multi-family housing be permitted in an area where Hasidic Jews have bought homes and vacant land.
A similar suit was brought a year earlier by a group called United Fairness. A judge initially dismissed that case, but an appeals court panel reinstated it last month and allowed developer Ziggy Brach to substitute himself as the plaintiff.
This video is from an episode of 60 Minutes. It provides context but also a sense of awareness that little has changed. In our view, the Satmar of Kiryas Joel are little more than a cult. Their strength comes not from the weapons of the cultists of Waco but from a political voting bloc. Their indoctrination comes not from Hollywood bigwigs but from pseudo rabbinical precepts and edicts.
We wonder what would happen to politics if the Church of Scientology did not have wealthy benefactors and a Hollywood presence. Would politicians pander to the chuch’s leaders similarly? Do they now?
A cult disguised by religion and a language it chooses to call its own is still a cult. When the cult’s rabbis choose violence to further their own personal agendas, in our view they are no better than Charles Manson. The difference is that Manson is in jail as are/were his followers.
The Mamakating planning board, which at least for now still has jurisdiction over Bloomingburg planning decisions, unanimously adopted a resolution on May 24 calling for developer Shalom Lamm to explain why the approvals granted for his controversial development Villages at Chestnut Ridge should not be rescinded. The resolution explains that the planning board will consider rescinding the approvals.
The approvals were granted based on the information contained in environmental documents, which are required by the state for such developments. The resolution says the information provided to the planning board as part of the environmental review process seems to be false. That assertion is based on documents unsealed by a federal court in April in which Lamm reveals that the intent of the development was ultimately to house thousands of Hasidic families, which would put the population well beyond what was foreseen in the environmental documents.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) dates to June 2009 and according to the resolution said “that the anticipated number of occupants of the 396-dwelling unit project will not exceed 810 and that the number of school-age children will not exceed 110.” But the documents unsealed by the court last month, according to the resolution, “appear to demonstrate the developer’s plan to develop the lands contiguous to and in the area of the Chestnut Ridge project for the construction of 5,000 dwelling units over a 10-15 year development period, lands already acquired or optioned by the developer.”
The resolution says it appears that the size of the community that was laid out in the unsealed documents, would have environmental impacts, which had not been taken into account, on water, sewer, traffic, government services, schools and other areas. The planning board scheduled a “due process hearing for the applicant/developer to be held on June 16, 2016, at 7:00 PM, at the Town Hall.”
It’s not entirely clear how this will play out. The last election in was in March and was held in the wake of Sullivan County making a deal with a number of challenged Hasidic voters who were registered in Bloominburg, which made it difficult if not impossible for any voters to be challenged again. In that vote, the Village of Bloomingburg Board changed from having a majority of members who were seen to be opposed to Lamm’s development to one with a majority that is seen to be in favor of Lamm’s development. The new village board is seeking candidates for a new Bloomingburg planning board, which would undo the current arrangement with the Town of Mamakating planning board, but that has not yet taken place.
The court that ordered the documents unsealed did so as part of the lawsuit brought by Lamm against the Town of Mamakating and the Village of Bloominburg because Lamm was denied a permit to build a girl’s school. But another case (which was thrown out, but that decision is being appealed) is a RICO lawsuit against Lamm brought by the town and the village. Observers had expected that, because a majority of new board is understood to be in favor of Lamm’s development, the village would have withdrawn from the RICO lawsuit, but to this point that has not happened.
To read the remainder of the article and the Resolution click here.