Double-barreled legal actions seeking to void a high-density development accuse the town of bypassing a legally mandated county planning review and allowing the Union Road project to move toward final approval without an approved zone change.
The legal actions are asking a state judge to void or block plans for 10 townhouses with 15 to 20 units on 1.05 acres down a narrow driveway behind a four-story building and a single-family house.
The project has yet to get final approval but has gotten a variance for higher-density housing from the town without a zone change, legal papers contend. The project is scheduled to go before the Ramapo Planning Board on July 24.
The land is zoned for single family with a 15,000-square-foot development per acre, but the developer has gotten approval for 24 units per acre. The property is located across Union Road from the massive Bluefield complex of multiple family townhouses of up to eight to 12 units.
The two legal actions aimed at stopping the Bluefield Extension have been filed by the county government and neighbor Sharon Doucette and the grassroots Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood-Hillcrest unit, known as CUPON.
The legal actions name Ramapo, the Zoning Board of Appeals, developers, and trustees involved in multiple sales, including former Councilman Yitzchok UIlman, and Building Inspector Ian Smith and former Inspector Anthony Mallia.
The property has been owned by several developers — including Bluefield Extension LLC Lazerbeam Acreage LLC, Joel Horowitz and Lesser Gross — but has switched hands several times, fluctuating prices and changing the value of the development, court papers contend.
‘This is happening all over Hillcrest’
The area — which borders the village of Spring Valley — has been changing to multiple family housing. Opponents also are fighting a developer’s plan to combine two properties at 158 and 160 Eckerson Road into multiple-family housing.
CUPON has successfully fought off several developments by going to court and challenging town decisions. CUPON has associated movements in several villages, including Spring Valley, Chestnut Ridge and Pomona.
“If this higher-density project is approved it will set a precedent in the area,” said Gordon Wren, a former Ramapo building inspector and recently retired Rockland Fire and Emergency Services coordinator.
Day’s vow to control overdevelopment
The county challenge is a rare one but part of County Executive Ed Day’s vow to use county laws to control overdevelopment and insist that the laws be followed. The county will not allow developments to connect into sewer systems without the proper approvals.
In 2014, the developer’s then-lawyer Ira Emanuel agreed to refile the paperwork and provide the missing materials to correct the oversight and allow the county review, court papers say. The legal challenges contend the proper documents were never provided.
ZBA minutes for January 2014 show the town’s assistant attorney, now Supervisor Michael Specht, and then Building Inspector Anthony Mallia telling the board that the county never sent a written review, but indicated in an email that county planners would disapprove the project.
The developer’s new lawyer, Ryan Karben, said the email from the county sent to the former attorney should be considered a disapproval from the county, according to the minutes in the county’s legal action. Specht agreed.
Specht said this week that the assumption the county reviewed the project and disapproved turned out to be incorrect.
“At the time of the hearing, the information before me was that the county had failed to issue a (review) … and therefore the ZBA was free to hear the application and would only need a simple majority to approve,” Specht said.”
Read the complete Journal News coverage of the story here.