Orthodox group quietly plans new village

Times Herald-Record, New York/May 29, 2008

Mamakating - An Orthodox Jewish sect has kept quiet since buying more than 450 acres in rural Sullivan County, but a booklet circulating in the Jewish community reveals a plan to establish a religious village there.

The Skver sect of Orthodox Jews is quickly running out of room in the Village of New Square, its enclave in Rockland County. So in July 2006, the sect paid $6 million for 458 acres, including the old Homowack Hotel, in the Town of Mamakating.

A 12-page booklet outlines plans and solicits donations for the new community, which is referred to as "Kiryas Skver."

"We are talking about creating a city from scratch," the booklet says, "building an infrastructure costing tens of millions of dollars, setting up a Talmud Torah, a girls school, a yeshiva," as well as shopping and health centers.

Those plans are reminiscent of Kiryas Joel, the Satmar Hasidic village in Orange County that was established in 1977.

On Aug. 19, 2007, about 10,000 Skver Hasidim - including New Square's grand rabbi, David Twersky - gathered at the Homowack Hotel. A story published in the Jewish Press said the gathering was an "inauguration of the new Hasidic village." In an interview last week, Dov Goldman, a Skver representative, said there are no immediate plans to build on the site. No applications have been filed in Mamakating. Goldman said future plans depend on population growth in New Square, which, by all accounts, is packed almost to capacity. New Square is only 0.4 square miles, and home to roughly 8,000 people.

Neighbors in the area of Meyerson Road fear the establishment of a religious village in their rural neighborhood. They've already organized a group, called 209 Valley Keepers, to track and fight the planned community.

"This isn't about who they are, it's about what they want to build and what kind of neighbors they're going to be," said Anita Altman, a neighbor and watch group member. "This would be intense urban development, and we want to maintain ourselves as a rural community. It's very upsetting."

The site is now being used for the Machne Bnos Square girls' summer camp. Goldman says the Homowack - which is now called Spring Glen Resort - is not accepting guests anymore. But a phone call to the resort was answered by a woman at the reservation desk, who said a nonsummer-weekend visit costs $499.

The hotel's activity irks Sullivan County Treasurer Ira Cohen, because its owners owe roughly $60,000 in sales tax and hotel room tax, he says. They also haven't paid their property taxes since buying the land in 2006. They owe $343,413 in back taxes and, if it's not paid by October, Cohen's office will begin to foreclose on the property.

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