Monsey still Calling the Shots on Development and Zoning in Ramapo
March 2, 2016 Want to know why Monsey and Spring Valley are so rapidly becoming urbanized with all the congestion and problems that follow compacting density in village-size spaces? Just go to a board meeting at Town Hall where all the shoe-horning gets approved. There you will get the answer to another question, as well: Why are the members of the Ramapo Planning and Zoning Boards not listed on the Town’s website? Clarkstown, Orangetown, and Stony Point list all those serving on their boards, and Haverstraw lists the chairpersons and secretaries.
Don’t bother looking for the names or photos of the members of these two key boards on the Town of Ramapo website. St. Lawrence has chosen to keep the operatives out of sight. So, in the name of transparency, here are the rosters for the boards that, this year, control planning and zoning in the Town of Ramapo. Along with the names, we have listed the home communities for each. It’s not a coincidence there are only two villages represented.
Town of Ramapo Planning Board
Town of Ramapo Zoning Board of Appeals
BASIC FACTS: Members of these two boards are not elected. They were hand selected by Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and approved by the members of his Town Board.
There are 9 villages in the Town of Ramapo that have zero representation on both of these boards. They include Airmont, Chestnut Ridge, Hillburn, New Hempstead, Montebello, Pomona, Sloatsburg, Suffern, and Wesley Hills. On the other hand, Monsey has a 2/3 majority/super majority voice on planning and zoning decisions that affect all the villages throughout the town. Spring Valley has a presence, although it’s only three of nine on Planning and two of six on the ZBA. Keep in mind, Spring Valley is hardly the exemplar for reasonable, or even legitimate development. Federal prosecutors have recently removed and scheduled prison stays for the Spring Valley Mayor and Deputy Mayor along with the Monsey developer who wore the wire in the catering-hall development sting. And it’s our belief that the federal investigators are not done yet in the village.
What we continue to have today in Ramapo is unsustainable growth driven by two Monsey-controlled boards and a wholly co-opted Supervisor. How unsustainable? Consider this: “If Ramapo were incorporated as a city, it would be the sixth largest city in the State of New York, after Syracuse. It would be the 209th largest city in the country, between Coral Springs, Florida, and Stamford, Connecticut.” (Wikipedia) The question now is when does the urban sprawl finally crush an infrastructure designed decades ago for a town in suburbia? In some areas, that’s already happened—ask the motorists in Monsey.
A Downward Economic Spiral
Another result of Ramapo urbanization is the economic vortex caused by the parallel forces of massive growth and a disproportionate increase in tax-exempt properties. New development in Ramapo is overwhelmingly residential and is concentrated in areas where tax-exempt properties are increasing.
This chart is from data collected by the TaxExemptWorld.com site. You can get a comprehensive list of specific properties listed as exempt in these different villages and towns by visiting the site www.taxexemptworld.com.
Here’s a more complete picture of the collapsing tax base that accompanies the accelerating growth in Monsey (ranked first in tax exempt properties and second in overall population) and Spring Valley (first in population and second in tax exempts).
As Monsey and Spring Valley continue to match growth with decreasing tax bases, the burden to cover the necessary services and infrastructure costs will be picked up by all the others that appear on this list.
You might have noticed that there are two members named Ramirez on the two different boards above. Yes, they are husband and wife, and they are not the only pairing that St. Lawrence has shuffled around between various boards. The other two are Brendel Logan Charles and Bernard Charles, Jr. The crossing of the paths of these two couples, as they have migrated from board to board, is both interesting and quite cynical. We’ll begin with the Bernie and Brendel show and then look at the sequel, Juan and Yanali.
First there was Bernard Charles’ brief stopover on the Ramapo Planning Board.
March 13, 2013 St. Lawrence appoints Bernard Charles to the position of Alternate on the Ramapo Planning Board. Brendel, his wife is also a member of that board, she also was appointed by St. Lawrence.
March 20, 2013 Seven days after the appointment, Charles attends his first and, as it turns out, his last meeting of the Planning Board. The issues that night centered around Patrick Farm, and they were complicated and consequential. Charles a expected, voted yes on all motions that gave developer Yechiel Lebovits the go-ahead with plans for a 500-residence sprawling complex on Route 202.
April 9, 2013 Bernard Charles resigns from the Planning Board having attended only one meeting and having voted on only one major issue, Patrick Farm.
March 12, 2013 Evidence of a connection between Bernard and the developers apparently already existed the very day before he was appointed to sit in on the Planning Board Patrick Farm hearings. On March 12 he had been chosen to fill one of the vacancies on the East Ramapo School Board. The Journal News reported: “Charles had been appointed to the scandal-plagued school board in March by the board’s Orthodox and haredi members after the only two members who were not Orthodox or haredi abruptly resigned after claiming they were being harassed by the Orthodox and haredi members who also allegedly made backroom deals and took secret votes, excluding the two non-Orthodox members.” Viewed from above, you could watch as the bloc vote that established the majority on the school board, named Charles to the school board, as their Supervisor, the one who placed the Monsey majority on the Planning and Zoning Boards, temporarily shuffled Charles to that board and onto the stage for his one-night stand in the Patrick Farm affair. Kind of dizzying, isn’t it?
Once seated on the school board Charles made it very clear what the School Board could expect from him. On April 29, he publicly vowed: “I am not going to conflict with my board members.” Reassured, at the election on May 21, the bloc vote rewarded him by cementing his posterior to a seat, in which he still sits, compliantly attending the meetings and voting with the majority.
An additional “atta-boy” was extended by St. Lawrence who created a position for Bernard in the spring of the following year—Public Affairs Consultant at the Ramapo Cultural Affairs Center, which has a $60,000 salary.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Bernie, has moved from the Ramapo Planning Board to the Town Board where she now occupies, with bloc approval, the Fran Hunter Geniality and Total Capitulation Chair. A more modest “atta-girl” from the Supervisor was presented to Brendel Charles as she was named Liaison for the Ramapo Housing Authority costing the taxpayers $6,000 per annum.
The Ramirezs, Juan and Yanali, are also from Spring Valley, and Juan has traced the exact same one-meeting scenario as Bernie between the East Ramapo Board of Education and the Planning Board, only Juan did it in reverse. Here’s how his puppet show evolved.
July 23, 2015 The headline for the Journal News story read: “Lone Latino East Ramapo school board member resigns.” The headline on Steve White’s Power of Ten blog offered a little more information: “New School Board Member Resigns after Just One Meeting.” Steve’s story explained the circumstances that made the resignation very suspect. “East Ramapo’s newest school board member [Juan Pablo Ramirez] resigned today. He told the Journal News he had misjudged the amount of time it takes to be a school board member. Perhaps he should have attended at least one complete meeting before he ran for the board? Perhaps the 6,000 people who voted for him should have asked if he had ever sat through even one meeting?”
The subhead for the Journal News story read: “Juan Pablo Ramirez says the time commitment was too much.” Ramirez told the paper, “This was not part of a political plan or strategy. This is just me feeling that my calling is to focus one hundred percent on my ministry.”
OK, so the voters are expected to put aside any suspicions that Ramirez was a Trojan Horse candidate who would immediately step aside and allow Board President Yehuda Weissmandl the opportunity to replace the lone Latino with Yehuda’s unelected choice for candidate on the board.
Weissmandl publicly lamented, “We’re saddened to lose Mr. Ramirez. He is a person with a passionate commitment to the children of the district. He brought a unique perspective and skill set to the board.” Passionate commitment that lasted for one meeting? And what was that “skill set” he brought? The deft political sidestep already demonstrated by Bernie Charles?
And then there was this:
Ramirez was being placed on the Ramapo Planning Board for a term that would last until December 31, 2020. And Mrs. Ramirez? Here’s the official declaration of her commitment to the St. Lawrence Zoning Board of Appeals team:
And to help complete the symmetry, Juan was appointed by St. Lawrence as the Liaison for the Latin Community and the Ramapo Police Department.
The Ramapo Sock-puppet Shuffle
So, to review what happened with the St. Lawrence pair-and a-spare of political sock-puppets—we have:
Serves for one meeting as a member of the Planning Board—votes to Approve Patrick Farm.
Bernie quits—steps left, and is appointed to the East Ramapo School Board. Promises not to rock the boat for the others on the board.
Mrs. Charles, member of the Planning Board quits, steps left and lands on the Town Board.
Juan Pablo Ramirez:
Is elected to the East Ramapo School Board and serves for one meeting. He quits. Delivers his seat to Yehuda Weissmandel and the rest of the board to assign a replacement who didn’t have to run for the position.
Steps right and is assigned to a seven-year term on the Ramapo Planning Board.
Mrs. Ramirez is named to a seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
And Juan gets to be the liaison for the Latin community.
Incidentally, Juan voted recently on a new round of permissions requested by the Patrick Farm developer. If you guessed that he voted to approve every one of them, you are probably catching on to how to choreograph the sock puppets.