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
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.
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:
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."
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.
There's still a question about the number of bedrooms which the developer has not cleared up.
Placing four students in a dorm room is not allowed.
The developer must examine
alternatives to his increased demands and there's no evidence that
The additional stress on the
infrastructure, especially sewers, water, and traffic, is a county-wide
and they will be overburdened by the size of this amended application.
All studies that were done based
on 72 students must be redone before the board can decide on the
variances for 288.
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.
There will be a negative impact on the character of the neighborhood of single-family homes on a scenic roadway.
The legal requirement is that the developer must consider alternatives--such as scaling down the project.
The wetlands on the site must be reexamined with the increased demands in mind.
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?
The applicant has cited the RLUIPA
law but it simply doesn't apply here. The issues are not discriminatory. The
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.
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.
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.
The commercial structures on these
7.5 acres will diminish the property values in the neighborhood while
burdens for the other residents.
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.
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.
(Read the Journal News coverage of the