Capacity Crowd Protests Yeshiva and Dorm in Single-family Neighborhood

May 15, 2009  The attorney for the applicant did not appear nor did the developer. They had asked for a postponement,
but the Zoning Board of Appeals attorney, Alan Simon announced at the beginning of the meeting that the hearing would
proceed.

Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals--left to right
Alan Simon attorney   Israel Bier   Shmuel Tress  Morton Summer  Maurice McDougal  Bernat Rosenfeld
(absent this evening were F. Charlotte Weaver and Tzirel Friedman)

In recent decisions, this board has granted the astounding sum of 50 variances for a single project on West Central Avenue and 42 variances
for one on Remsen Avenue. Each variance was needed to get around a violation of the zoning code.

We asked a preeminent expert at the state level about the number of variances. Patricia E. Salkin is Associate Dean and Director of the
Government Law Center of Albany Law School. She is serving her sixth term as Chair of the American Planning Association’s Amicus Curiae
Committee, is an officer of the Executive Committee of the Municipal Law Section of the NY State Bar Association, and is the author of the
four-volume New York Zoning Law and Practice. When presented with the details of the 50 variances approved by the Ramapo ZBA, Dean Salkin’s
reaction was, “I think I am speechless.” (That story here.)


 

 

The overflow crowd was estimated at 150+   Before the adjournment a hand-count
vote of the attendees showed 100% opposed to the variances--0% in favor.

Objections presented in the Open Hearing phase of the meeting:

      

Pomona Deputy Mayor Brett Yagel (left) and James Hyer (attorney for resident's association) spoke first.
Of the many objections--legal, environmental, quality of life, historical preservation, traffic, infrastructure--here's
an incomplete  list:

  1. Variances cannot be granted for self-imposed "hardships," and it was the developer who
    multiplied the number of students by a factor of four. The applicant has placed himself in a "hardship."

  2. The original plan had room for 72 students and the environmental impact study was for
    that number--the study is not valid for 288. The impact obviously is not the same.

  3. There's still a question about the number of bedrooms which the developer has not cleared up.

  4. Placing four students in a dorm room is not allowed.

  5. The developer must examine alternatives to his increased demands and there's no evidence that 
    he has.

  6. The additional stress on the infrastructure, especially sewers, water, and traffic, is a county-wide concern
    and they will be overburdened by the size of this amended application.

  7. All studies that were done based on 72 students must be redone before the board can decide on the
    variances for 288.

  8. If 60% of the students will commute the new traffic study must also report on increased pedestrian
    traffic on the narrow country roads in the immediate vicinity.

  9. There will be a negative impact on the character of the neighborhood of single-family homes on a scenic roadway.

  10. The legal requirement is that the developer must consider alternatives--such as scaling down the project. 

  11. The wetlands on the site must be reexamined with the increased demands in mind.

  12. The Ramapo Planning Board never sought out help from the Army Corps of Engineers and they didn't even
    know where the wetlands were located on the property. How could they have made any valid judgments
    about the restrictions met or evaded concerning the laws that apply to wetlands?

  13. The applicant has cited the RLUIPA law but it simply doesn't apply here. The issues are not discriminatory. The zoning
    laws do not impose a substantial burden on the ability to practice one's religion, and, further, the zoning laws are not
    unique to Ramapo.

  14. The historical significance of the property ranged from the Lafayette encampment in 1778 during the Revolution to the occupancy of
    such American classical figures as John Steinbeck. When the Ramapo Planning Board was told about the history, one board
    member said, "So what." An archeological study was not sent to the New York State Historical Conservancy.

  15. We live within a 10-mile radius of Indian Point, and if an accident occurred there, the evacuation from this area would be
    made impossible by commercial operations of this size in residential areas.

  16. The commercial structures on these 7.5 acres will diminish the property values in the neighborhood while increasing tax
    burdens for the other residents.

  17. Attorney for the yeshiva, Ira Immanuel, claimed schools are good for the area. Schools are good for the community which they
    serve. Case law has shown schools negatively impact property values.

  18. The Village of Pomona asked for a wildlife study, but Immanuel said it wasn't necessary. One resident said they saw a rattlesnake on
    the property yesterday. (Rattlesnakes are endangered, and if they are living on the property it's illegal to build there.)

    The dialogue often became contentious, and on a number of occasions Chairman Summer and
    attorney Alan Simon resorted to shouting down objections and criticisms from the residents.

     

     The panel finally decided to end the hearing. Mr. Hyer asked that the names of all those
    not given a chance to speak be given the opportunity to read their names into the record,
    formally objecting to the requested variances. Summer agreed to include signatures, and
    some of the community organizers set up tables to gather the signatures. A hand-count vote
    of the 150 in the hall was 150 against 0 for.

    The meeting was adjourned without closing the public session. It will continue on June 18 at 8pm.

Michael Castelluccio

(Read the Journal News coverage of the meeting here.)