The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and Ramapo's Adult Student Housing (ASH) Law

These two laws have the potential of destroying fair and equitable zoning practices in the Town of Ramapo. But both are seriously flawed, and it's important to know why neither should stand up to any serious legal review. Below are two legal opinions that you should take a close look at. Those who say "But there's nothing we can do about it" are wrong, dangerously wrong.

Read: Adult Student Housing, An Extortion Paid: Includes the history of the local law, who created it, why, and where it applies in unincorporated
Ramapo. Article here.

Read: How Congress Undermined the American Dream: The Effect of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act on Residential Neighborhoods by clicking here. The author is a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

Read: New Law Misinterpreted--an explanation of how the Town Board's incorrect interpretation of RLUIPA has acted in "an arbitrary and capricious manner in accepting this legislation." Click here to read Doris F. Ulman's letter to the Journal News--Ms. Ulman is Village Attorney in Chestnut Ridge and Pomona.

Read: The Impact of RLUIPA in Ramapo and Nationally--a letter sent to the Journal by Robert Rhodes in which he explains how the law was cited locally, what brought about the lawsuit filed against Ramapo by four villages, and what impact the legislation is likely to have on the nation. Read the letter here.

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Christopher St. Lawrence has enabled, encouraged, rewarded and cheered on RLUIPA lawsuits (details)

Adult Student Housing--An Extortion Paid

The Adult Student Housing legislation was a local pay-off offered to
developers who were threatening the Town of Ramapo with RLUIPA
lawsuits. This article explains how it happened, where the sites are,
speculates on why it happened, and discusses two struggles to overturn
the St. Lawrence legislation.

St. Lawrence and his Board the source

When Christopher St. Lawrence and his board refused to fight the
RLUIPA applications in Ramapo, and cut a deal with their Adult Student
Housing legislation, they paved the way for the Pomona disaster, Patrick Farm,
Hillside Avenue, and the Nike Base complex on Grandview Avenue. The residents
in those neighborhoods have a right
to be outraged at the sellout, but the rest of Ramapo should look closely at the
ASH law--it has wider application as a legal precedent that Ramapo has embraced.
Those willing to fight RLUIPA are the four villages currently in Federal Court and
the Airmont trustees Joe Meyers, Dennis Kay, and Anthony Valenti who are fighting
the Hillside plan. The Town of Ramapo doesn't have the will, even though it is
much better able to afford the legal costs than the villages. The Town, however,
has been willing to spend our tax dollars in court fighting the residents' right to
vote on a Ward System as well as residents' rights to form villages.
  The Pottery Barn Rule applies here in Ramapo also--The Supervisor and his Board
  broke the zoning controls, and now they own the consequences. 

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[The most recent stories are on the home page]

Pomona declines code exemption for proposed
 rabbinical college (July 8, 2007)

They wanted a free pass, but they didn't get it. Their attorney Savad claimed
that RLUIPA "allowed municipalities to grant zoning-code exemptions to religious
institutions." Pomona village attorney Doris Ulman explained, "There's no provision
in law that I'm aware of that permits you to give an exemption from the law. We
all know the cops stop everybody when you're speeding, regardless of who you
are. And it's the same thing with the local law. Everybody must be treated
equally." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

WRCR's Duncan Lee on RLUIPA (April 16, 2007)

"On its face, RLUIPA seems innocent enough. It is an effort
to guarantee that communities cannot ban religious groups
 they don't like, just because they're different. What was
 unforeseen was the effect that the law would have on
zoning efforts to maintain the character of a community and the potential for
shattering the local infrastructure." Click here for complete commentary as it
appeared in The Journal News. There's also a link to Bob Rhodes' interview
on Duncan's show.

Airmont to appeal Hillside RLUIPA decision (April 4, 2007)

The Airmont Board voted to appeal the recent court decision
to allow the Hillside Avenue religious residence for 1,000
adult students. The Board feels the judge's decision was not
made on the merits of the case, and they insist that only a
zoning board can offer the variances needed not the Village Board, which is
what happened in this application. The Hillside homeowners association (HAPA)
also plan to proceed with their Article 78 objection to the plan. The story on the
recent court decision is here, and general information, including site plans, for
the application can be read here. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

 

 

RLUIPA developing into
a cottage industry

Two recent ads show a new direction for this 
 federal law as it develops an entrepreneurial
 dimension. For those who would like to maximize the heft of the hammer,
 seminars and workshops are now available. One ad is directed at religious leaders
 and the other is for developers and planners. Developers in Ramapo probably
 don’t need the help of these courses–-they already know the mere threat of an
 RLUIPA suit will be rewarded by Supervisor St. Lawrence and his Board with
 Adult Student Housing sites that are exempt from the local zoning laws that apply
 to every other application. View the two current ads here.

RLUIPA the brewing battle over religious rights

A Journal News editorial calling for a second look at the federal law that cancels local control over zoning.
The editor writes, "local taxpayers and governments should not be cowed into approving development projects - in
Ramapo or elsewhere - when there are legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons behind the opposition. It's the job of
Congress - with the courts - to make the guideposts clear." Preserve Ramapo believes that Adult Student
Housing
(ASH), Supervisor St. Lawrence's own version of RLUIPA for Ramapo, should also be looked at and repealed, as well.
[Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

Construction begins on first Adult Student Housing site on Grandview Ave (Nike site) (May 27, 2007)

When Ramapo was faced with the threat of an RLUIPA lawsuit, rather than oppose it in court as municipalities across the country have, Supervisor St. Lawrence and his board established 4 Adult Student Housing sites where no zoning regulations apply. The densities on these sites can be as high as 1,000 residents and two yeshivas in the middle of rural neighborhood (see Hillside Ave).  The constitutionality of the RLUIPA law is working its way through the lower courts to the Supreme Court, but meanwhile, here in Ramapo, thanks to the town caving to the threat, our right to contest the legitimacy of the law has been given away. Story here. See also Patrick Farm and the Hillside sections. 

Public relations team and lawyers try to manage
rabbinical college ground fires (May 9, 2007)

Backing off from their own site plans that show room for 4,500 residents, the
Rabbinical College of Tartikov has begun a PR campaign to mitigate the local
reaction in Pomona and throughout Ramapo. Claiming that the initial project
would involve only 250 residents, the builder does not explain what follows the
initial project. The site plan that Preserve Ramapo made public shows a
"college" with more than 90% of the buildings as apartments. A public meeting
is scheduled for May 21 in Nanuet. Original site plans here. 
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Federal judge: Hillside project in Airmont
can proceed  (April 4, 2007)

Airmont had sought to have the court invalidate the agreement made by
Mayor Layne to permit the yeshiva with dormitory and apartment houses
on Hillside Avenue. They argued the agreement was made illegally in private
session and that the meeting in which the Planning Board had accepted
lead agency status was also illegal because Dennis Cohen proceeded despite
the obvious violation of fire codes in an overflow situation in the old
Village Hall. The court rejected both objections and said the Hillside
project could now proceed to the environmental impact stage before the
Planning Board. (This project has buildings that could
house an estimated 1,000+. Follow the story here on this website.)
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Yeshiva ad for Grandview Townhouses fuels
 controversy (March 22, 2007)

"The ad, which highlights the project's family-friendly facilities, states that four-,
 five- and six-bedroom townhouses will be available. Too bad the project only
 sought, and received, permission for two- to four-bedroom townhouse units."
 See the actual ad here.

[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Ads for St. Lawrence's first Adult Student Housing
project expose apparent violations (March 16, 2007)

After Supervisor St. Lawrence and his board folded under the threat of an RLUIPA
lawsuit from builders, they set up 4 ASH zones, the first of which is now offering
apartments larger than those permitted by the agreement. "Yeshiva Chofetz
Chaim on Grandview Avenue is permitted by Ramapo's zoning code to have
apartments with no more than four bedrooms, yet has advertised apartments as
large as six bedrooms." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

 

Click here to see the ad
discussed in the story.

 

Mamaroneck Yeshiva wins federal court ok to expand (March 4, 2007)

"A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Jewish day school's right to expand its campus in Mamaroneck, trumping the village's zoning board and upholding the constitutionality of a controversial law on religious land use."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Government by law, not faith (Feb 28, 2007)

A New York Times editorial that insists on the separation of church and state, and
rule by law that draws no distinction between all citizens. Text here.

Pomona adopts resolution to urge Congress
to review RLUIPA (Feb 21, 2007)

Joe Meyers' initiative to reach out to all the villages, the town and county,
calling on them to send a resolution to federal lawmakers to rescind RLUIPA is
showing results. So far, Airmont and Pomona are sending their objections in the
form of resolutions. Other villages have meetings scheduled to discuss what
they will do. You can check the progress of your village, town and county
officials by clicking on the RLUIPA scorecard button at the top right of this page.
We will keep the information updated. 
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

RLUIPA: Intended as protection; used as a weapon (Feb 8, 2007)

"It is particularly important to take note of the fact that the parcel of land in
 Pomona was purchased with the full intention to develop it as a religious college.
 This is to say that there was a premeditated plan to purchase the land and then
 invoke RLUIPA in order to develop the land in a manner that is explicitly contrary
 to local zoning restrictions. This is not RLUIPA being used as protection; it is
 RLUIPA being used as a weapon by a religious group to develop land within an
 existing community exclusively for its own purpose." Read the
 Community View here.

Lawyer Savad's odd perspective and the RLUIPA wars (Feb 1, 2007)

A Community View and a Letter to the Editor in The Journal News present the
views of residents:
"I have to take great exception to attorney Paul Savad's statement in the Jan. 12
Journal News ("Pomona to get rabbinical college plan") that a rabbinical college in
Pomona was a "natural progression" and that the character of the village is
"evolving from country to more diverse development because of the people living
here and the people moving here." While I understand he is being paid by his
client to make such statements, and he himself is in the business of land
development, I happen to live in the Village of Pomona." Full text here.

"Who would have known that the separation of church and state would be tossed
out the window in favor of every imagined religious group in America? In effect,
RLUIPA supercedes all property and environmental law on the books." Complete
letter here.

Meyers Offers Resolution to rescind RLUIPA to Rockland Legislature (Jan 17, 2007)

Jan. 17--Last night, Airmont Trustee, Joseph Meyers, presented to the Rockland
County Legislature a formal resolution calling upon Congress to repeal the RLUIPA
legislation of 2000. RLUIPA is a federal law that has the force of canceling zoning
control in towns and villages, allowing the federal government to make decisions
about large-scale development related to religious institutions. Meyers asked that
a public hearing be held as soon as possible to discuss the resolution. He will also
be presenting the same resolution to the villages in Ramapo. You can read his
remarks to the Legislature, the full text of the resolution, and Meyer's press
release
by clicking on the links. We will keep an updated scorecard on this site
to keep you updated on action taken, or avoided, by the Legislature, the Town
of Ramapo, and the Villages. 

Monsey homeowner fined for operating illegal school (Nov 30)

The owner of a College Road building was fined $15,000 for operating an illegal school for boys, despite a state Supreme Court injunction that prohibited it. His lawyer claimed the school was allowed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Foreclosed New Square house vandalized again (Nov 30)

"Vandals flooded the basement of an Eisenhower Avenue house bought at auction by a Manhattan company and might have tried to burn it down," according to Ramapo police. This is the third attack on the same property.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Mamaroneck, Jewish school face off in court (Nov 15, 2005)

The legal contest between a religious school and the Village of Mamaroneck will be "the first of its kind tried in court in this district. The case is one of about 45 currently in litigation nationally and will test the constitutionality of a controversial federal law passed in 2000." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

News and Commentary

NY Times takes a second look at Ramapo and religious lawsuits (June 26)

Peter Applebome, New York Times suburban reporter, returned to Airmont to gain a better perspective on the problem. His first article on June 15 drew criticism from residents and corrections from a Village Trustee. His piece "In the Character of a Village, It's Property vs. Religion" was published Sunday June 26. and can be read here. 

Judge allows yeshiva suit in Ramapo (June 18)

The list of complainants was trimmed as the four villages were removed from the lawsuit. But the two private suits can continue, and construction of the yeshiva and 60-apartment complex on Grandview Avenue must wait a court decision.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Case for high court  (Journal News Editorial responding to the lawsuit June 14)

"This time, we think the court case will go all the way to the top, for RLUIPA, by its very nature, denies some in the community the right to have specific protective zoning, such as that for single-family homes, while allowing a particular group carte blanche. Conceivably, under RLUIPA, a 16-story building could rise in a residential zone. The act is patently unfair and does a disservice to those who seek fair play and balance in a diverse community, such as Rockland, Ramapo and Airmont."   [Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

Correcting The Times (June 15)

An article appeared in The New York Times on June 15 commenting on the lawsuit. Titled "Where Zoning Seems a Test of Tolerance," it was written by Peter Applebome. Airmont Trustee Joe Meyers wrote a letter to Applebome correcting a number of errors in the piece. The article appears here and Mr. Meyers response appears here.