They had all been there before, the planning board, the residents, the lawyers, and the Ramapo police at the back of the hall. It was the third time the developer Yechiel Lebovits was bringing the application to the Ramapo Planning Board. The meeting room was packed at 7:30 as Rice and Rocks, attorney and engineer for the developer, labored through their presentation asking for approval for the massive, high-density transplant of about 500 homes on the property once owned by John Patrick.
By the end of the evening, about 12:30 pm, 19 residents, lawyers, mayors, and a county legislator had presented their views on the project. 90% spoke against it, and 10% spoke for it. The two individuals who didn’t object, actually avoided the pertinent issues with one deploring the rhetoric and the other offering a character reference for the builder, Lebovits.
Once again there were objections that became themes, repeated by many of the speakers over the course of the evening. Here are the main themes:
1. Part of the project is built over a fresh water aquifer.
2. Plans for protecting that aquifer don’t exist because the builder denies the existence of the aquifer.
3. Run-off from impervious surfaces of the development could pollute the headwaters of the Ramapo River across the street.
4. The Ramapo is a source of drinking water for New York and New Jersey homes.
5. The density of the development is seriously out of character with other homes in the area.
6. Quality of life in the area will be seriously impacted.
7. The project lacks required approvals from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers.
8. Layouts in many of the homes would allow conversion to 7-bedroom homes.
9. No credible attempt has been made to provide real numbers for the population increase created by the project, hindering any real impact studies.
10. There’s a 24-inch natural gas pipeline running through an entire perimeter of the site with homes as close as 25 feet away.
11. The company that owns the pipeline has legally declared it has no liability in the event of a catastrophic explosion and or fire from that pipeline.
12. The question about the impact of the thousands of new residents on the site on the East Ramapo School District has not been addressed.
Before looking at some excerpts from comments directed to the board members, here is the most current configuration of the development as presented last night by Rice and Rocks.
Route 202 is at the top of the map, immediately adjacent to the perimeter of development. The smaller dark rectangles are the single-family homes and the larger structures in the middle are the multi-family, multi-story dwellings.
The first speaker was Daniel Richmond, a partner from the law firm Zarin and Steinmetz representing ROSA. He explained that the board could not approve the application without an environmental review. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has remapped that site and found 35% more wetlands that cannot be built upon. He said the fire department planning is not possible without accurate numbers of new residents on the site, and that’s further complicated by the possibility that some of the homes could become 7 and 8-bedroom dwellings with modifications. Richmond suggested that the board place deed restrictions on the single-family homes to keep them single-family.
Susan Shapiro spoke next, telling the board that the developer resisted remapping the wetlands, and the Town of Ramapo officials have changed town law to accommodate this favored developer. What was originally zoned for 1 home on 2 acres (R-80) was downzoned to 1 home on 1 acre, St. Lawrence offered the Adult Student Housing exemption to zoning, and finally in 2010, he and his board gave Lebovits permission for close to 500 homes on the site. Shapiro warned about the Columbia Gas line that runs underground across the site with some of the houses as close as 25-feet from the pressurized pipe. She added that Columbia has excused itself from any liability of a gas-line fire. They have transferred that to Phoenix, which itself is currently in foreclosure and might not be counted on in the event of a future catastrophe. She also said that a declaratory action has been filed against all the changed laws applicable to this project. She also warned that the federal Fair Housing Act requires that this project be open to all members of the community and if it is being developed exclusively for an all-white orthodox-only community it will be in violation of the FHA law.
Bruce Levine focused on the inherent dangers of building over a buried gas pipeline. When the original pipeline was put on the property there was no one there. “Today,” he warned, “we’re looking at thousands of people extraordinarily close to that pipeline.” The owner of the line, Columbia, issued a letter in 2014 explaining that they are not liable, not even if they make a mistake maintaining the line. “That’s on you!” Bruce said, looking at the board members. He then described a risk table that’s based on the size (24-inch diameter) and pressure of the gas in the line (936 psi). The table lists how far away from the line you should build. It’s called the Zone of Special Area of Consideration of Risk. For the Patrick Farm pipeline you should keep homes between 468-520-feet away from the line. Some are almost on top of it 25 feet away. He then listed 36 homes that are precariously within 450 feet of the gas pipeline.
Then what followed were objections to the application from Mayor Millman of Montebello, Mayor Yagel of Pomona, County Legislator Lon Hofstein, and Montebello Trustee Melanie Goldman. Most called the application premature and pointed out the lack of permits and approvals from other agencies, especially the DEC and ACOE. They also called for a valid environmental impact study.
Mike Parietti invoked the shadow cast by the Silver and Skelos convictions in Albany. He more than implied that the political landscape has changed and gifts to political favorites might not be viewed the same now as they were just months ago. He also reminded everyone of the catastrophic government decisions regarding the destruction of the water supply in Flint Michigan. Denying the aquifer on the property is not a good starting point to protect sources on the Patrick Farm, not to mention the threat the site poses to the headwaters of the Ramapo.
Deb Muniz said the DEC has not even looked at the plans presented at the meeting, and the applicant continues to refuse to answer questions posed by that agency regarding the development. The ACOE says the applicant needs a permit, which they currently donâ€™t have, and the perimeter of single-family homes purported to block the view of the urbanized high-density core of the development is not a circle, it’s an open “U”.
Bob Romanowski reminded everyone that the impact of the project on the East Ramapo Central School District has not been established, and he called for a study by District officials to determine the effect its population will have on the already embattled school district.
After the last speaker, Planning Board Chair Sylvan Klein asked Dennis Rocks whether they had provided answers to the DEC’s questions about the project. Rocks mumbled his way through to a tacit admission that they hadn’t followed by an assurance that “We’re working on it.” Klein followed up with what if we let you go forward without it and then you are denied a permit from the DEC? Rocks’ answer was very informative. He said, we’re willing to take the chance.
Parse that last answer, and here’s what you get:
1. If they are in compliance, why not take the half hour to draft the answers to the DEC questions and be done with it?
2. Their refusal seems to strongly indicate that they aren’t in compliance.
3. But who would risk building something illegally that might be later torn down?
4. Ans: Someone who knows that in Ramapo, if the construction is started, or even completed, and there’s a consequent decision that it was not legal, no one, not Anthony Mallia, not Sylvan Klein and definitely not Christopher St. Lawrence is going to demand the demolition of that building.
If you want a more detailed example of how Ramapo does its fix-it dance for favored developers, read Ramapo Finds Way to Enable Illegal School Conversion for 250 Students in Hillcrest.
After five hours of public requests for a thorough and thoughtful re-evaluation of the application, because of the changed wetlands map, the lack of comments from the DEC and ACOE, and numerous other unresolved issues, Klein closed the public hearing and took a vote on when they should reconvene to vote on whether to approve the project. They decided to come back in 17 hours and take a vote. They will meet tonight at 7:30.
When Suzanne Mitchell, director of ROSA, was asked for a comment by Alex Taylor of the Journal News, she offered, “It seems so far status quo. If the Planning Board grants approval tonight we’re prepared to file another lawsuit.
17 Hours Later
Back to Town Hall, Wednesday evening 7:30. Town Attorney Alan Berman presents three resolutions to the board for their approval or rejection. These would grant Subdivision Approval, Grant Site Approval, and Final Site Plan Approval. Because all three included overrides of objections from the county planners, the vote must be a majority plus one (a super-majority). The vote is taken and all three are approved with the required super-majority 6 to 1 on all three votes. The lone dissenter is Leo Moster. Both non-orthodox members of the board, Juan Pablo Ramirez and Jose Collazo voted to grant approval to the Patrick Farm developer.
Here is the video of tonight’s vote.
And so it begins again.
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