The Face of Real Discrimination

By LYNN YAGEL
(Original Publication: July 25, 2005 online under the title "Do Not Build Walls Against People)

I have never written a letter to your paper, but I feel compelled to do so after reading the recent article, "New Square family evicted." This story recounted the anger by members of the Hasidic Jewish community there toward an outside company that bought a three-family rental home after a New Square resident lost the house in a foreclosure for not making mortgage payments.

New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer said that residents were angered by the purchase and the potential for non-community members moving into the village. The article goes on to say that Ramapo police had to stand guard outside the home after officers found several windows broken by rocks and the water turned on inside. There were even false 911 police calls that were unfounded in an attempt to have the officers leave the house. What strikes me about the article is that it sounds like a "hate crime" that should be investigated. I live in the Village of Pomona on a cul-de-sac of 13 homes. Like the rest of the village, our street is ethnically and religiously diverse. We respect each other, look out for each other, abide by the law and pay our taxes. When a new neighbor moves in, we welcome them.

My home is also within one mile of the Patrick Farm property along Routes 202 and 306. This 200-acre property is in the unincorporated area of Ramapo between Pomona and Wesley Hills and has been designated as "adult-student housing" under the new Ramapo master plan. Last summer, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and the town board approved increasing the zoning from two-acre lots to multi-family housing connected to a religious school.

This new zoning will allow for 16 residential units per acre. Understandably, in an area that is still very rural, with water shortages and traffic congestion along 202, local residents protested in droves at board meetings last year. Residents even followed the necessary guidelines to submit a petition to allow a vote on forming the Village of Ladentown. While Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips found the petition to the village technically sufficient and that it should be placed before the residents of the area for a vote, St. Lawrence denied the petition, siding with the objections of the Patrick Farm developers, Scenic Properties of Brooklyn. Supervisor St. Lawrence wasn't looking out for local residents who have been living here for years and paying their taxes. He gave in to the pressure of the religious community and the block vote they will deliver him in his bid for re-election this fall. The New Square article brought to mind the Ramapo board meetings that I attended last year. No matter what concerns were brought up by local residents (water shortages, sewering, traffic, high-density housing not in harmony with the local area), members of the religious community always countered with accusations of anti-Semitism even though many of those who spoke out against the downzoning were Jewish.

After listening to all of this, I realized that once the Patrick Farm property is developed, I would not be welcome there. My children will not be welcome there. Eventually public roads will be blocked on Saturdays, as they are in New Square. Already, residents along Route 202 have been approached to sell their homes. They have been told that they will not want to live there in five years. Merchants at the local Stop and Shop in Pacesetter Park in Mt. Ivy are being warned that they will not be able to open for business on Saturdays. The Patrick Farm developers have been cited for doing work without state permits, facing environmental charges for work on a stream that feeds the Ramapo River (our water source) and draining federal and state-protected wetlands in order to maximize the amount of land they can build on. This just doesn't sound like a good neighbor. Residents in my area welcome new neighbors as long as they abide by the law, respect their neighbors, pay their share of taxes, are good citizens and strive to live in harmony with other faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The real discrimination comes more from the religious communities that do not welcome or respect other faiths and want to keep out anyone who is not part of their community.

The writer lives in Pomona.