Ramapo Ignoring the People's Will?

In Community View--April 21

Ramapo’s Democratic Machine is in real trouble. Its first cover story wasn’t very convincing and its new cover story doesn’t seem to be much better.

            When our town board passed the so-called Adult Student Housing law it explained that it didn’t have any choice. According to Michael Klein, our Ramapo town attorney,  Ramapo had to allow apartment houses in single family residential zones because of the new federal law called RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act). He didn’t tell us that the Ohio Circuit Court of Appeals had already found this new federal law unconstitutional, or that other Federal Courts had raised serious questions about the scope of RLUIPA.

             And there seemed to be a logical inconsistency in his argument.  How, one would want to know, could Ramapo restrict the application of RLUIPA to just four sites if, as Klein claims, RLUIPA supersedes local zoning sanctioned under state law?

             Lastly, some local residents believe that at least two of the four sites approved under Ramapo’s new zoning law were owned by close political allies of the Democratic Machine.

            Now Phil Tisi, Supervisor St. Lawrence’s political apologist, has published a letter in this newspaper that proposes a new explanation.  According to Mr. Tisi, no matter what Ramapo did someone was going to sue Ramapo. He is probably right. But I would like to know why if Ramapo was going to be sued no matter what it did, it would want to take a position opposed by the overwhelming majority of Ramapo Residents.

            This explanation becomes even more suspect when one looks at how Ramapo’s Planning and Zoning Boards have treated the first application approved under Ramapo’s Adult Student Housing Law.

            Under New York State Law Kiryas Radin had to appear before our Planning Board with an environmental impact engineering report.  Kiryas Radin’s engineer came to the public hearing and gave each member of the Planning Board a thick technical report. He then assured the Board that he had proven that the proposed construction would have no adverse environmental impact.

Immediately at the end of the public hearing, by a vote of 5 to 2, the Board reached a negative SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) finding. That is to say, it agreed with the applicant’s engineer before it had even had a chance to study his highly technical report. It ignored the many environmental issues raised by local residents and elected officials from neighboring villages. It didn’t even make believe that its finding was the result of a careful and responsible study of the facts.

After the hearing I went up to someone who is very close to the Board and asked him how it could reach such a hasty conclusion. He said “what do you expect from a ‘packed board.’” 

 But the law wasn’t generous enough for Kiryas Radin. It then went before the Ramapo Zoning Board of Appeals in order to allow its construction to violate the law’s  front and side yard requirements. It wanted to build as closely as possible to both Grandview Avenue and neighboring single family homes. And there, once again, it got exactly what it wanted.

 It is no wonder that Ramapo is now being sued by four of its own villages, or that for the first time in a generation a Democratic Supervisor is facing the possibility of defeat in the next election.

Robert I. Rhodes, Chairman, Preserve Ramapo