Ramapo Finds Way to Enable Illegal School Conversion for 250 Students in Hillcrest

April 30, 2013 At first, the building inspectors for the Town of Ramapo shut down the illegal conversion of a house on Eckerson Lane into a school. Then a Town Advisory Board that included Ramapo Chief Building Inspector and planning consultant Anthony Mallia and the Town’s legal department gave the congregation permission to use the house as a school for a year, during construction. "They are retrofitting a house as a school," Mallia told a Journal News reporter. "They could have used modular trailers for classrooms. What’s the difference? The congregation is taking a risk. If after a year, they don’t get final approval for a school, they might have to leave."

Anthony Mallia at a Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting

In a Journal News story published Monday, Steve Lieberman reported that the three-story house on Eckerson Lane was being converted into an Orthodox Jewish religious school for a Monsey-based congregation. The work was stopped twice by Town building inspectors and then Mallia and town attorneys signed off on a temporary permit for the school to operate inside the house while a plan now goes forward to build an even larger school for 250 male students, ages 7 to 13. The 35-foot-high school will have 27 parking spots and a recreation area of 7,500 square feet, Lieberman reported.

In answering Mallia’s rhetorical, "What’s the difference," he might want to check with the neighbors who spoke to the Journal reporter. They have serious objections relating to traffic and other environmental issues, they are concerned about their property values, and they are incensed that "No one told us anything."

Mallia told the Journal News, "Schools are permitted in residential areas by special permit, as long as site plans are approved and all fire and safety equipment is installed."

When Steve Lieberman checked with the fire and emergency service officials he was given the other side of the story.

"Fire and Emergency Services Coordinator Gordon Wren Jr. questioned the justification for using the house as a school. Wren, a former Ramapo building inspector and Hillcrest firefighter, said houses were not built to be used as schools and was concerned about the safety of the children and firefighters.

"Everywhere else in America, applicants have to get site-plan approvals, variances, and neighbors get a chance to view plans and speak at public hearings," Wren said.

"Firefighters have not seen any plans. Converting a house into a school is a lot different than using pre-manufactured trailers."

Everywhere else in America, indeed. Perhaps with St. Lawrence’s stacked boards, and planning and building officials like Mallia and his predecessor Alan Simon we are now somewhere else.

Read the full text of The Journal News coverage (Ramapo homeowners fight religious school plans) here.

Michael Castelluccio
Preserve Ramapo

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