Construction begins on Ramapo yeshiva-apartment building

By JAMES WALSH AND SULAIMAN BEG

THE JOURNAL NEWS

(Original Publication: May 27, 2006)

RAMAPO — Apartments in the town's first residential-yeshiva community were being built this week while building-permit fees remained in dispute.

A building permit has been issued for the construction at the Grandview Avenue site, where excavations began months ago in preparation for the town's first development in a zone accommodating apartments connected to religious schools.

The permit was issued by the town despite the dispute over the fees owed by Mosdos Chofetz Chaim, which is overseeing the yeshiva.

"They've paid a substantial (part of the) fee, so we're not going to hold up the project because of that," Town Attorney Michael Klein said yesterday.

He said that certificates of occupancy allowing use of the buildings could not be issued until all fees were paid.

Rabbi Aryeh Zaks has complained to the Zoning Board of Appeals that the building-permit fees based on construction costs were unfairly raised by more than $20,000.

An initial construction estimate of $6 million was raised to $8.4 million, which raised the town's fee to $75,617 from $54,046. The latter sum had already been paid by Mosdos Chofetz Chaim.

The increase came after Robert Rhodes, a longtime critic of the yeshiva project and the zoning that allowed it, complained that the estimate was too low. Rhodes wrote in January to Brian Brophy, who resigned as building inspector this month after $6,400 and a small amount of marijuana were found by state police in his town-owned sports utility vehicle after an accident.

The town's records show the change of the cost estimate, but do not indicate who revised it.

Mosdos Chofetz Chaim's dispute over the fee is to be heard by the zoning board on July 6.

During the same session, the board will also review town charges that the developer permitted a school to be operated on a fenced corner of the site without municipal approval.

Mosdos Chofetz Chaim has countered that a school had previously operated there, and that only the building had changed.

The state Office of Children and Family Services has considered the facility to be an unlicensed day-care center.

Dennis Lynch, a South Nyack attorney representing Mosdos Chofetz Chaim, has said the state lacks jurisdiction over day-care centers affiliated with a religious school.

Lynch said the developer met with state representatives Thursday to discuss state law. A hearing by the state agency is scheduled for June 28.

A criminal case being held at Ramapo Town Court is to begin July 24.

NOTE:

The Town Board adopted the Adult Housing Law in June 2004. By stating that they had to adopt the law because of RLUIPA, the Town of Ramapo appears to be saying that housing is a religious use of land when everyone else knows that the construction of housing is a commercial endeavor.

The villages that have brought legal action against the Town of Ramapo challenging the Adult Student Housing local law are not claiming that RLUIPA is unconstitutional. What they do say is that RLUIPA does not apply; that housing developments are not protected uses under RLUIPA; that the town has acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in adopting this legislation' and that any housing developments approved pursuant to the Adult Student Housing Law are illegal.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that a state or local government must "pursue a course of neutrality toward religion, favoring neither one religion over others nor religious adherents collectively over non-adherents."

Doris F. Ulman, Village Attorney–Chestnut Ridge and Pomona