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Timing Of Passage Of An Amendment To the Village Incorporation Law May Derail Efforts Underway In Orange And Sullivan Counties
By Tina Traster
Two upstate Hasidic communities are each trying to form new villages in Sullivan and Orange counties but proposed legislation modifying the 150-year-old law that establishes the mechanism to create a village could derail these efforts. The bill, written by Senator James Skoufis, has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting a trip to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk for signature.
The law, if signed, could have implications for the proposed villages of Seven Springs in the Town of Monroe in Orange County and the Village of Ateres in Sullivan County.
The bill would increase the minimum population requirement for village incorporation to 2,000 from 500 persons who are regular inhabitants, a number where it has stood for decades. Also, before a village can be established, a study must be conducted on the fiscal, service and taxation interests of the population to gauge if the maintenance of the village is fiscally viable. That study must be filed with the Department of State and posted on its website for a minimum of 90 days. The law would still require the votes of at least 20% of the residents “qualified to vote” for town officers to start the proceedings to become a village.
“The bill has not yet made it to the governor’s desk but we have every reason to believe she’ll sign it,” said a Skoufis spokeswoman. Hochul has until the end of the year to sign the bill, or it lapses.
Article 78 Challenges Approval Of Village Petition in Sullivan County
The Viznitz Hasidic community filed a petition in June to establish a village with its own local government and laws in Sullivan County. The proposed Village of Ateres straddles two towns but is mostly in Thompson and consists of the small Viznitz enclave — with an estimated 834 adults and children living in it — and hundreds of acres of surrounding land. It sits near Kiamesha Lake, not far from Resorts World Casino.
The towns held two public hearings in August for speakers to pose objections to the petition on technical and legal grounds. After weighing testimony and a flood of written comments, Thompson Supervisor Bill Rieber and Fallsburg Supervisor Kathy Rappaport in August voided 25 of the 99 signatures but upheld the petition.
In September the Supervisors of Fallsburg and Thompson found the petition to establish the Village of Ateres “legally sufficient” despite some issues with signatures being difficult to read, incomplete, and questions about whether signers can be excluded as unqualified.
“We note that we, as town supervisors, are required to review the petition with a narrow set of circumstances as governed by state law. After many hours of public hearings, reviewing submissions, consulting with staff and our attorneys it was painfully obvious that the approximately 100+-year-old NYS statute governing village formations is in dire need of a rewrite. We are beyond the days of communities meeting at the local grange to map out their future,” wrote the supervisors
In response, Thompson resident John Reeves filed an Article 78 petition in Sullivan County Supreme Court on Oct. 6 seeking to vacate and annul the determinations, arguing that 13 named individuals who signed the petition were not qualified to vote, that nine signatures were affixed by somebody other than the signer, and allegations that some of the signatures were forged based on side-by-side comparison with voter records.
Respondents’ return date to answer the petition is November 15.
If the Article 78 annuls the decision to establish the village, then the local residents would have to file a new petition with whatever law is in effect at the time.
Village of Seven Springs
In Orange County, efforts have been underway since 2018 to create a new municipality in Orange County, known as the Village of Seven Springs, located adjacent to the existing Village of Kiryas Joel. The proposed village would spread across 1.9 square miles in the north end of town and include more than 600 residents.
“Since its conception in 2018, the proposal to create Seven Springs has been a revenge-fueled effort to bend New York’s antiquated and inadequate village incorporation laws,” said Senator Skoufis. “These unscrupulous developers have cared about one thing and one thing only: changing zoning in order to make money at the expense of our local quality of life.”
In September, Monroe Town Supervisor Tony Cardone rejected the petition.
The petitioners for the village said they were seeking to improve services in what they characterized as a neglected part of town. Cardone, in a letter last month, said the petitioners’ document was not sufficient to comply with the law, as it failed to adequately include a metes and bounds description.
Instead, the village description relied predominantly on tax (lot) lines. Because the tax lot lines were beyond the borders of Monroe, the town claimed it couldn’t determined the exact borders of the proposed village with “common certainty” as required by law.
Attorney Steven Barshov, who is representing petitioner Herman Wagschal, said his client plans to appeal the decision in State Supreme Court.
The future remains uncertain for these efforts as neither proposed village has the 2,000 “regular inhabitants” contemplated by changes in the Village law.