Orange, KJ at odds over sewer permits
By Chris McKenna
Posted Dec 15, 2019 at 9:36 PM
Veyoel Moshe Gardens, a 1,600-condo complex being built on Nininger Road in Kiryas Joel, near the State Police barracks in Monroe. [CHRIS MCKENNA/TIMES HERALD-RECORD]▲
Orange County is withholding sewer permits for more than 3,000 planned homes in and around Kiryas Joel while awaiting the results of studies to determine if the village's main sewer lines can handle more sewage or if sections of them need to be replaced with larger pipes.
The studies were prompted by an overflow in Kiryas Joel in August, when county officials say unusually heavy discharge caused wastewater to spill out of two manholes and into four building basements.
The county, which runs the sewer system that serves that village and other communities in southeastern Orange, sent letters last month telling housing developers it couldn't approve their sewer permits at that time. Officials said in those letters they will decide if pipe improvements are needed after the studies are completed, but also are exploring ways to reduce peak flows so they can allow more hookups to occur.
The permit delay comes on the cusp of a housing boom in the Satmar Hasidic community, which has hundreds of units under construction and many more set to be built. The developer of the 1,600-unit Veyoel Moshe Gardens complex already paid for an earlier sewer-capacity study and has agreed to pay $4.8 million to replace a pipe in Monroe that bears the combined sewage from both of Kiryas Joel's trunk lines.
That giant condo project, the largest of those awaiting sewer permits, is being built on a 70-acre peninsula of Kiryas Joel along Nininger Road, across from the Monroe State Police barracks.
Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin blasted the suspension of sewer permits in a statement on Thursday as a de facto housing moratorium for the village. He blamed the county for failing to anticipate the dwindling pipe capacity and replacing the trunk lines, using the charges it collects from sewer ratepayers to pay for the work.
"Of course we are not advocating the continued spilling of sewage onto our streets and basements and the contamination of our environment," Szegedin said. "But we are demanding the County to choose operating its sewer main system properly as a public utility, rather than using the sewer problem as an excuse to stop housing in Kiryas Joel."
Erik Denega, the county's public works commissioner, said in response on Friday that the county "does monitor and maintain the conveyance system, but is not obligated to replace pipes to increase capacity," and has not done so anywhere else in the sewer district.
He also argued that Kiryas Joel's Planning Board was supposed to have examined sewer capacity during environmental reviews before approving housing projects, and that having developers pay for needed infrastructure is a long-standing practice. He pointed to a 2005 order in which Kiryas Joel developers agreed to pay for a new sewer line after the county found they had connected new homes without permits.
Lanc & Tully Engineering and Surveying is conducting separate studies on the hydraulic conveyance capacity of each of Kiryas Joel's trunk lines, both of which were expected to be done this month.
The 2005 sewer improvements were made on what is known as the west branch in Kiryas Joel. The east branch, which has not been upgraded, would bear the wastewater from two projects on Acres Road with 1,000 combined homes. Veyoel Moseh Gardens would bypass that line and empty directly into the new pipe it's paying for.
In his statement, Szegedin cast the suspension of sewer permits as the latest attempt by county officials to stall growth in Kiryas Joel, following conflicts over the village's water pipeline to the Catskill Aqueduct and its annexation of land. He hinted at further litigation.
"The Kiryas Joel leadership is again forced to defend the rights of its citizens to affordable housing within its borders," he said. "We are again forced to assemble a top quality legal team to defend these rights, as we cannot and will not permit the County's prejudice against development within our community, solely designed to stop our natural growth."
Denega said by email that Kiryas Joel flouts both county law and an agreement with the county by issuing building permits before the county has approved sewer permits. He also argued the village could have paid for pipe upgrades from funds it has amassed by charging housing developers $3,000 per housing unit, specifically to pay for "capital facility needs resulting from new construction," as stated in village law.