Questions about 'open space'

By RAY KANE

Community View in The Journal News

(Original publication: November 3, 2005)

I have been searching for 700 acres of open space that appeared for the first time a few weeks ago in the lead article of "Around Town," the Town of Ramapo's newsletter. The article, "Open Space Preserved for Future Generations," lists 19 open space "parcels" totaling 1,621 acres.

The first parcel listed is called "Dedicated Parkland Zone Torne Valley." At 700 acres it accounts for 43 percent of the total open space acreage claimed for the town's open space program.

I was astonished to read this. We at Torne Valley Preservation Association had heard nothing about this 700-acre "parcel." I needed to find out where and what it was. Perhaps after all these years the preservation of Torne Valley was finally going to happen.

I called the supervisor's office. He was out. I explained why I was calling and asked if anyone else could answer my questions, but I was told only the supervisor could do that. So I left a detailed message and asked for a return call.

I was anxious, so I called the building and zoning department. They referred me to the supervisor's office. I called the Parks and Recreation Department and was referred to the director. He was out. I left another detailed message.

I was cautiously hopeful. This was a town newsletter, not a piece of election literature. It should be factual. No matter that a "zone" is not a "parcel" of purchased open space. Or that at least three of the parcels (420 acres) belonged to the county and the Solid Waste Authority; or that the 155 acres of the Mitch Miller property were donated to the town a dozen years ago. There was hope if the town had a 700-acre "dedicated parkland zone" in Torne Valley.

I was disturbed by the absence from this list of the 90 or so acres the town claimed to have purchased on Torne Mountain two years ago, but I hoped that it was included in the "zone." These 90 acres, the 50-acre Ramapo well field purchase, and commitments to preserve as much as possible of the Ramapo Valley through the Comprehensive Plan, won Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence support from environmental organizations for the elements of the plan that pertained to the Valley. It also brought him the annual award of the Highlands Coalition.

To make a long story short, no one from the Town of Ramapo ever called me back, and no one I have spoken to since knows anything about this 700 acres. So I would still like to hear from anyone who can tell me where this land is, what it is, and why it is on a list of open space purchases. But now I have more questions

Why does the town claim 1,621 acres of recent open-space purchases, when it has apparently purchased only 346 acres in the last five years, after the county, solid waste, Mitch Miller property and the Torne Valley "dedicated parkland zone" acres are subtracted? Only 50 of these acres seem to be in Torne Valley or the Ramapo watershed.

What does the Solid Waste Authority plan to do with the 160 acres of Houvenkopf Mountain in Hillburn it now apparently owns? Will it remain dedicated open space, or will it be developed by the authority?

Which raises the question, what is the town's definition of "open space"? To me open space is just that, land that is not developed but left as dedicated green space because of its esthetic, habitat, environmental or watershed value. It is not the Ramapo Cultural Arts Center, or the 15 acres of the 50 acre Ramapo River well-field "parcel" presently under development by the town for a stadium, Astroturf and a field house/ gymnasium, worthy as these projects may be.

What happened to the 90 acres on Torne Mountain that the supervisor claimed to have purchased? It got the town a lot of positive press at the time and got a lot of us to believe that preservation of Torne Valley could be a reality. Since then the reality has been town approval for development of 292 units of Sterling Mine Road senior housing, a violation of every commitment made two years ago, and the imminent threat of expanded development of Pierson Lakes and the remainder of the Ramapo Valley.

I would like some answers to all of these questions. But most of all I want the town to keep its promises. Stop the hype and bad arithmetic. Put a moratorium on development and get working on the preservation of real open space to protect the Ramapo watershed.

Now. It's that important.

Ray Kane is a former mayor of Airmont who is currently involved in preserving the Torne Valley.