Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoes Blooming Grove conservation bill due to 'tensions' with Hasidic community

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Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have enabled the town of Blooming Grove to tax property sales and use the proceeds to buy land it wants to conserve or the development rights to those tracts.

The proposal was nearly identical to a conservation bill for the neighboring town of Chester that Hochul's predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, vetoed in 2019 because of accusations that it was intended to thwart housing development for the growing Hasidic community.

Hochul alluded to that same conflict in her explanation for rejecting the Blooming Grove bill, without taking a stance on the claims of bigotry.

"There have been well-documented tensions in Orange County between local elected officials and members of the Hasidic community," Hochul wrote in her veto message. "Similar tensions in the nearby Town of Chester resulted in litigation. It would be inappropriate to sign this legislation at this juncture, while facts are still being gathered about the situation."

Conservation bills: Lawmakers pass Blooming Grove's but pull Chester's from floor

Stalled proposal: No action on bill to let any Orange County town tax property sales

Cuomo veto: Chester plans another run at rejected conservation bill

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at an event in New Windsor on Nov. 11, 2020. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday vetoed a bill allowing Blooming Grove to tax property sales to fund land conservation.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at an event in New Windsor on Nov. 11, 2020. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday vetoed a bill allowing Blooming Grove to tax property sales to fund land conservation.

Advocates for the Orthodox community cheered Hochul's veto on Thursday, arguing the bill unfairly targeted Hasidic community growth.

"It’s a disgrace that such bills even get out of committees," said Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. "Those bills are written with the false and bigoted assumption that growth of said communities are a problem when in fact they are an economic and tax boon for local communities as shown in multiple data reports on our website."

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who represents Blooming Grove and sponsored the bill in the Assembly, blasted Hochul's "late-night Christmas week veto," calling it a violation of Blooming Grove's "home rule" rights. The town is free to buy land or development rights but needed permission from Albany to impose a tax to fund those purchases.

"For years community members and local leaders worked together in a nonpartisan fashion to develop a comprehensive preservation plan which was the sound basis for this legislation," Schmitt said in a statement. "This veto shows blatant disregard for the state’s constitutional principle of home rule and completely ignores legislators of both parties, local government requests, and the support of countless local, regional, and statewide organizations."

Blooming Grove and Chester each wrote plans that listed dozens of undeveloped land parcels they wanted to preserve for environmental or other reasons. Both planned to seek voter approval to impose a 0.75% tax on property sales, the same amount that the nearby town of Warwick has charged for more than a decade for conservation.

Blooming Grove's preservation wish list included eight adjacent land parcels that a Kiryas Joel businessman and developer wound up buying in April for $6 million. Those eight parcels made up 600 of the 705 acres that changed hands in that sale; the remaining land is in the village of South Blooming Grove.

Cuomo vetoed the Chester bill after it was invoked in a discrimination lawsuit by the developers of the 431-home Greens at Chester project. A slightly revised version cleared the state Senate this year but was pulled from the Assembly floor before a vote after opponents raised late objections. The Blooming Grove bill, which they appear to have overlooked, went through in a 131-17 Assembly vote.

Among the groups that later protested was the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, which thanked Hochul for her veto on Twitter on Thursday.

"We wrote last month to the governor asking to veto that bill that would discriminate against Hasidic Jews," the UJO wrote. "Thank you for standing up for fair housing for all."

Sen. James Skoufis, the Cornwall Democrat who sponsored the Blooming Grove bill in the Senate, called Hochul's veto "extremely disappointing" and said he will push the bill again in 2022.

Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Jeroloman said local and national conservation groups and the county planning commissioner all had written in support of the bill, which he said was intended to protect the environment, farmland and open space.

"New York sends a new message today that there is no support for these types of actions here in New York, and you will be judged and convicted without a hearing by what your neighbors and others are doing instead of what you have done," he said. "All our town was asking for is moral accounting and a proper balance in regards to our own environment and farmland."

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: NY governor vetoes tax bill opposed by Orthodox advocates

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