What Is Going On At the Old Nike Site

January 24, 2006

About two years ago Ramapo passed a law (spot zoning) allowing the construction of "Adult Student Housing" in four single family residential areas. The law allows 16 units per acre for post-secondary educational institutions where at least ten per cent of the construction is for educational rather than housing use. The excuse for this law was a supposed federal requirement under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) passed by Congress in 2000.

The first applicant under this law was by Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim. It is hoping to build 64 units of housing (two and three bedroom apartments) on four acres on Grand View Avenue. Four of Ramapo’s villages sued to invalidate this law and to stop the proposed construction by the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva asked to have the case moved to federal court under RLUIPA. That court held that this was not a federal issue and returned the case to New York’s Supreme [lowest state] court.

The four villages are represented by Zarin and Steinmetz a leading law firm in zoning law that is based in Westchester. The individual plaintiffs in the case are Bob Moskowitz, a neighbor who is a trustee in the village of New Hempstead, and Jay Rosenthal, a neighbor who is a trustee in the village of Wesley Hills. Quite a few immediate neighbors indicated a strong interest in joining with them as plaintiffs, but all backed out—a most unfortunate circumstance.

The case is now before a judge in Westchester whose court specializes in zoning matters. He has indicated that the case seems to have merit, but he has made two unfortunate rulings. First, he said that the four villages did not have legal standing because a municipality is not allowed under New York law to challenge zoning in another municipality. The villages have appealed this ruling to the New York Court of Appeals based on the argument that they are not challenging zoning, but, rather, that their challenge is based on the serious environmental impact this construction will have. We are waiting for a decision on this crucial point. If our argument is upheld in court, we will probably be able to stop the construction of ASH in Ramapo.

The judge’s second decision has created a serious financial obstacle. Even though he indicated that the case seems to have legal merit, he is requiring that the plaintiffs post a $50,000 bond. This bond would be given to the defendants, if he found for the defendants and also found that the case should not have been brought in the first place because it had no legal merit. Unless or until the Appeals Court rules that the four villages have legal standing they are not allowed to support the case financially. This also means that they cannot pay the required $50,000 bond.

Meanwhile, because the bond has not been posted, the temporary injunction which the court granted to the plaintiffs has run out, and the Yeshiva has begun preparation for construction. Once significant construction has been carried out, the approved subdivision will become a property right of the Yeshiva and it will become almost impossible to stop construction even if the Appeals Court were to hold that the ASH law is illegal.

The attorney of record for the two individual plaintiffs is Donald J. Ross who has worked pro bono, without pay, and donated many thousands of dollars worth of his time to this case. He is not a zoning expert and no longer has the time to continue as their attorney. Most graciously, the firm of Zarin and Steinmetz has agreed to continue the case and represent the individual plaintiffs as well as the village plaintiffs for a total fee of $7,500 with an additional $1,000 for expert testimony.

At this point, if the neighbors would be willing to post the bond of $50,000, construction could still be stopped for the period of years it will take for the case to be concluded. Alternatively, if the neighbors can help the two plaintiffs by donating up to $8,500 the case can be continued. Of course, as I wrote above, if a court ruling comes after substantial construction has occurred it will probably be too late. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE.

Meanwhile this writer has discovered a serious flaw in the Yeshiva’s application for a building permit. The applicant stated on the application that the total building cost will be six million dollars, when the real cost will probably be in the neighborhood of 16 million or more. The applicant paid $54,000 for the building permit, when it should have been roughly $150,000. Some of you may have attended the meeting at the Ramapo Planning Board where it made a State Environmental Quality Review Act finding that the construction would not have an adverse environmental impact. This ruling was based in part on the applicant’s assertion that the applicant had provided an adequate engineering solution to the problem of water run-off after rain storms. The applicant’s engineer assured the Planning Board that his plans had been reviewed by the Ramapo Building Department’s engineers who had found his plans were adequate.

The obvious question that is raised is the following: If the building department could not recognize that the building permit application grossly understated the actual cost of construction, what confidence can we have that it adequately reviewed the engineering plans for the development?

Lastly, I understand that aggressive attempts have been made to encourage the neighbors to sell their homes. Block busting is illegal under New York State law. You may wish to consult with an attorney on this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert I. Rhodes, Ph.D., Chairman, Preserve Ramapo