State needs better controls over towns

By Robert I. Rhodes
The writer is chairman of Preserve Ramapo
(August 29, 2006)

New York has comprehensive and elaborate procedures written to encourage long-term planning for land use and protection of the environment. Unfortunately, these laws do not provide an adequate system of checks and balances.

Recent history in Ramapo has demonstrated that when a town board is determined to destroy all restrictions on land use and wishes to ignore the environmental consequences, it can do so with impunity. This is due to a simple fact: Private parties cannot afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to challenge even a single bad decision by a town, planning or zoning board.

We need the following:

1. A state law that allows one municipality or a coalition of villages to sue over a town's land-use decisions based on environmental concerns.

2. A state law that requires that towns with over 100,000 in population have town boards elected on the basis of election districts or wards rather than at large. This would assure that decisions reflect the wishes of all town residents.

3. A state law that allows the creation of new villages without the approval of the town's supervisor and requires a population census that is merely accurate rather than absolutely perfect. Such a law would also require that judges make decisions in a timely manner, rather than delay cases for years in order to protect their political sponsors from political and legal challenges.

Passage of these laws would encourage responsible decision-making at the town level and encourage village formation where town governments refuse to do their job. We know from our unhappy experience in Ramapo that only deep pockets can stop reckless town boards.

Preserve Ramapo will support candidates for office who support these important changes in state law.