A very nice back yard, especially since it has been protected
against future sale or alternate use

The Supervisor, Open Space and Credibility

(October 3, 2007)  In an article written by Journal reporter James Walsh, the Town Supervisor and Attorney defend the open space purchases that have cost the public $24 million. Of these, only one has been dedicated as parkland (see Supervisor and Town Board refuse to Protect Open Space Properties). On the same day, in a Community View piece, the Supervisor repeats reassurances but does not agree to dedicate any of the 23 undedicated properties.
[The commentary in red type is from Preserve Ramapo.]

 

Ramapo land preservation questioned

By JAMES WALSH
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: October 3, 2007)

RAMAPO - The town could further protect its land preservation efforts by placing restrictions in the deeds of properties it bought for parkland and recreation, according to a citizens group.

Preserve Ramapo, which has long clashed with the town administration, charges on its Web site that properties bought by the town could be sold later because the Town Board formally dedicated only one of two dozen as parkland.

The group, which is also fielding a slate of candidates for supervisor and Town Board, worries that the town at some point might sell the land to balance budgets or satisfy land-hungry developers.

A half-dozen deeds examined yesterday by Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein did not contain restrictions that preserved the properties as parkland, a step that Clarkstown deemed necessary for its $22 million open-space program.

"The reason is that years from now, when the memory of the bond resolution is forgotten, there would be no question," said John Costa, who was Clarkstown's attorney when it launched its open-space preservation program. [Attorney Klein has claimed that covenants in the deeds would protect the purchased properties, but when pressed by the reporter, he was unable to find examples of the covenants. Note that Clarkstown depends on these legal restrictions written into the deeds to protect their open space projects.

Besides the missing legal language in deeds, the Town Attorney has also claimed that use as a park is the same as dedicating a park, but when Preserve Ramapo asked for a citation from State Case Law for that principle, we were told to go find it ourselves. You will note in the Community View below that the Supervisor says there is law covering this, but he also will not cite specific statutes or cases. And he continues to refuse to dedicate any of the other 23 undedicated properties.]

Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said yesterday that he thought the town's purchases were safe from developers because they were made with funds borrowed for preservation.

"Everything we purchased is forever," St. Lawrence said. "It's all for future generations to enjoy."

Philip Nicholas, a project manager for The Trust for Public Land, said it was his understanding that the source of funding for land preservation could protect properties.

"But it's certainly true that if property is dedicated as parkland, or if there's a deed restriction, it has much greater protection." [When Preserve Ramapo spoke to The Trust for Public we were told that a law firm practicing in the State that deals with environmental law could give us much more specific information. We did contact such firm and they provided the case law we used as a base for our article.]

The trust is a national nonprofit organization that has helped preserve more than 2 million acres in 47 states since 1972.

Klein said the Town Board's resolutions for bonding $22 million specifically stated that the money was for "the acquisition of land for public parks or other preservation purposes."

Klein said the board made no secret of its intentions.

"We clearly expressed that we were buying these properties for parkland, open space and historic preservation," Klein said, "and then we actually used them for those purposes."

Ramapo's purchases were accompanied by Town Board resolutions to borrow funds for "paying the cost of the acquisition of land at various locations for public park or other preservation purposes."

Another resolution stated that property was being bought to "ensure the preservation of the area's rural character and natural recreational features, and prevent unwanted residential development." [The resolution to dedicate the Mitch Miller property could not have taken more than 5 minutes in the Oct 2003 meeting, and that is the only property recognized by NY law "to be (parkland) forever and irrevocable after acceptance, and that it be for a public use--McQuillan, Law of Municipal Corporation."

The only site formally dedicated by Ramapo as parkland - known as the Mitch Miller property in Wesley Hills - had been donated to the town for "general municipal purposes."

It was the generality of the donation, Klein said, that led the town to make the dedication.

Preserve Ramapo member Michael Castelluccio said the town should similarly dedicate its other properties.

"It's 218 words; that's what it took to dedicate the Mitch Miller property," Castelluccio said.

[The question remains, Why does the Supervisor and Board refuse to take 5 minutes to protect these multimillion-dollar purchases in resolutions at a publicly attended town board meeting?]

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Community View in The Journal News

Ramapo's 'open space' is most certainly protected

By CHRISTOPHER P. ST. LAWRENCE
(Original Publication: October 3, 2007)

In response to Michael Castelluccio's Sept. 27 Community View, "Ramapo, is open space forever?" the Town of Ramapo has engaged in what is probably the most aggressive program in New York state for the purchase of land to be used for the public purposes of open space, recreation and historic preservation. Since December 2003, Ramapo has completed the purchase of 20 separate parcels.

Even though we have come to expect political rhetoric at this time of year before an election, I am shocked and dismayed at recent petty political attacks questioning the town's truly historic program of land acquisition. It has been falsely stated that since the town board has not passed a resolution dedicating most of these land parcels as open space, they may be sold at the town's whim for private development. This is utter nonsense!

New York courts have time and again reaffirmed the principle that parkland cannot be sold or used for an extended period for non-park purposes without approval of the New York State Legislature. Land becomes parkland by some means of dedication. This can be by an express resolution of the Town Board as we did for the 150-acre Mitch Miller property. Here a resolution was needed since the land was not purchased for park purposes, but was gifted to the town many years ago by the former band leader and Ramapo resident for general municipal purposes. The vast majority of our recent land acquisitions were obtained differently. We purchased them largely by the use of low-interest bonds. [Why was the legal language, for instance that used by Clarkstown to define the properties as parkland, not included in the deeds?] The stated purpose of the bonds approved by town board resolution was the purchase of land for open space and recreation. Once we purchased the properties, we promptly began using them for the purposes of open space, recreation and historic preservation. Our courts have clearly recognized that the use of land for park purposes constitutes a dedication of the land as parkland with exactly the same effect as if done by formal resolution. [This statement is not true--Philip Nicholas pointed out to the Journal: "But it's certainly true that if property is dedicated as parkland, or if there's a deed restriction, it has much greater protection." See above.]

Stated simply, the town's many recent land purchases are forever protected because they were purchased for and are used for open space, recreation and historic preservation. I am proud of the fact that the Town of Ramapo is one of the leading communities in the metropolitan area in preserving dwindling greenspace. We will continue to be pro-active in acquiring additional properties.

The writer is Ramapo town supervisor.

[If you are encouraged by the reassurances contained in this Community View, I suggest you read Mr. St. Lawrence's iron-clad guarantees about the sewer system in a previous Community View. Then scroll to the bottom of that same page and look at the table of costs--it's our $50m tab to fix his marvel of engineering. We can't afford too many more these guarantees, especially when it comes to land that is at risk in the future for which we have already paid $24 million]