Rabbinical college supporter skipped key facts

By Michael Castelluccio
(Original Publication: The Journal News  March 2, 2007)

In a Feb. 20 In Reply, "Rabbinical college also concerned with Pomona's well-being," Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov, pledged that his clients will live in "harmony with the surrounding community" of Pomona. Unfortunately, his letter contains a number of half-truths and misrepresentations.

He claims, "Despite the exaggerated scare tactics heard recently in the media and elsewhere, no plans have yet been finalized." This is only true in a technical sense. No plans are ever final until they have been approved by a municipal planning board. But detailed plans have been sent out to several important government agencies in Rockland for their reaction, with no indication that these plans will be modified before they are presented to the planning board. If I were Mr. Storzer, I too would have been upset that Preserve Ramapo "let the cat out of the bag" and put significant parts of the plan on www.PreserveRamapo.org.

Mr. Storzer complains that there is no location in the surrounding area where the rabbinical college can "legally locate." We do not believe this rabbinical college is yet in existence. Surely, there will not be any problem finding students who will be happy to study in housing "free of charge," if the sponsors of the project can get what they want from Pomona. Our question is, whose freedom of religion is being denied?

According to the plans, only a very small part of the project will be devoted to educational and religious purposes; virtually all of the buildings will be for housing. This suggests that there will be no economies of scale. If Mr. Storzer's client really wanted to "exist in harmony" with Pomona, why did he propose an urban development with 1,000 three- and four-bedroom apartments that will contain a population of perhaps 10,000 people? Is he aware that Pomona is a semi-rural village located in a town with a precarious water supply, and an overloaded sewer system that often overflows and sends raw sewage into the Upper Saddle River?

Finally, according to Mr. Storzer, RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) "simply requires municipalities to justify their zoning actions by proving that important interests - rather than political whim, NIMBYism, or outright hostility - guide them." Actually, the law provides that a municipality must prove that there are "compelling" government interests involved. This is a far higher standard. Curiously, although he invokes many altruistic motives, the attorney neglects to mention that if a municipality loses this kind of case it must pay the legal expenses of the plaintiff's lawyers. Mr. Storzer knows that he will be extremely well compensated by the village of Pomona if he were to win a case against them. This is the other end of the ball-peen hammer that is RLUIPA. First the federal government removes local control over land use, and then there's the backswing: Your village pays the attorneys for the other side. Tyrannical? We think so. Constitutional? Not by a long shot.

The writer, a Chestnut Ridge resident, is editor of PreserveRamapo.org