New proposed village would give Vizhnitz community its own local government

The community of 140 families says it wants more sidewalks and better lighting, but others are concerned about density

Map of proposed village area. Credit: Google Maps

Aug 7, 2023 3:55 PM


Aug 8, 2023 11:55 AM

For the first time in over a decade, New York State might have a new village, thanks to a group of Viznitz Hasidim.

The group is petitioning to create the village of Ateres in a 1.5 square mile section of land in Sullivan County in upstate New York, a little over 100 miles from New York City and about 60 miles from some other Haredi enclaves like Kiryas Joel and New Square.

Viznitz is one of the largest Hasidic sects in Israel and New York, with sizable communities in Montreal, and London. The group previously established another village, Kaser, 70 miles south of the new proposed village. Founded in 1990 and home to over 5,000 Hasidim, Kaser is the most densely populated municipality in the state.

Ateres, led by one of the late rebbe's 8 sons Rabbi Menachem Mendel, is proposed for a much smaller community of Viznitz Hasidim, with 834 people, half of whom are children. It would remain part of the towns of Fallsburg and Thompson. Leaders of the proposal delivered a petition with 99 signatures on June 14th, requesting the formation of Ateres. This is the second time this Viznitz community has sought to govern itself as a distinct municipality, after negotiations with the then town supervisor Tony Cellini fell through in 2005, when the community had only 596 people.

Within New York State, designation as a village allows its residents to continue voting as part of the larger town in which they’re situated, while offering some opportunities for self-governance. Villagers still often rely on the town for highways, fire protection, and utilities, but get to make their own decisions about zoning, local ordinances, and an elected mayor.

Residents of Thompson and Fallsburg who oppose the move raised objections to the application at a joint town meeting held last Thursday in the Viznitz synagogue, according to a report in The Times Herald-Record. The hearing did not allow for broad discussion of the proposal, but was simply an opportunity for people to raise technical concerns about the petition itself.

However, outside the meeting, some local residents voiced concerns about rapid development in the manner of the Hasidic enclaves of Kiryas Joel and New Square.

Zev Turkeltaub, the organizer of Ateres’ incorporation push, told reporters for The Times Herald-Record that control over zoning laws did not play a part in the rationale for a new village.

“We're not looking for high density, we're looking just at what the town has approved up until now,” he said. “That's what we want, and we're happy with that."

Some of the changes Tukeltaub said Ateres wants to impose include adding sidewalks, and adding more public lighting for community members who walk home from prayers on Friday night.

If Ateres ends up becoming a village it would buck a statewide trend that has seen the number of new villages dwindle. Where there was a boom of new villages in the first half of the 20th century, that number has shrunk to a handful of incorporations every few years. That trend is largely owed to an increasing overlap in local authorities, which has led the state to incentivize the dissolution of existing villages.

Opposition to new villages is gaining ground at the state level. Due to the expense associated with additional villages and other concerns, state legislators passed a bill in June which would raise the population threshold for new villages from 500 residents to 2,000. The bill would need Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature to become law, and she has not indicated whether or not she plans to sign the bill.

If Hochul signs the bill into law, it would effectively end the current plans for Viznitz’s new village.

This article was updated to include additional background on Viznitz.