“Town officials are facing criticism for their vision of a campus for multiple yeshivas on nearly 75 acres of town land along Route 45.
Officials believe such a campus will improve safety and the property sale would provide millions of dollars for a town facing a potential multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
A campus for private schools on the so-called Striker property could also alleviate the legal and illegal growth of yeshivas in private houses. The trend of opening schools in single-family areas is being opposed by many Orthodox Jewish residents and non-Jews living in the neighborhoods.
The Town Board tabled a vote after hearing from neighbors of the property and the general public at meeting Wednesday night, town Supervisor Michael Specht said.
He said the neighbors raised concerns and the board decided to look into the issue. The parcel on Route 45 and Concklin Roadis near Ramapo’s baseball stadium. Specht said the land is zoned residential for single-family home per two acres and allows for schools by Town Board special permit and site plan approval.
Specht said a campus is part of a long-range strategic plan to locate private schools on larger parcels under safe conditions and relieve the burden of schools in residential neighborhoods with traffic issues.
“We’re looking at the larger picture and (to) come up with a way to keep schools out of central areas of town (to) alleviate traffic concerns,” Specht said. “There’s a growing need for schools in the community and they keep appearing in residential areas. By using a larger parcel, the schools, residents and students will be safer.”
He also said the town will benefit financially by the sale of the Striker property, which will be declared surplus.
Critics argue against the sale and support dedicating other larger parcels for private schools, if needed.
Activist Bruce Levine, an attorney and former Rockland County legislator and town supervisor candidate, said selling property originally designated as open space could lead to a lawsuit against the town.
Levine also said the former Ramapo Drive-In property on Route 59 in Monsey “is perfect for a campus for schools,” as is the Pascack Ridge property eyed for hundreds of homes on the Clarkstown border or the undeveloped Minisceongo Golf Course in Ramapo.
“So why do we need to sell the old Striker property at all?” Levine said. “The land is environmentally sensitive and was originally zoned for at least 2-acre private homes. Selling open space is a stupid idea in our already too-crowded town.”
Specht said the development of properties cited by Levine would bring tax dollars to town coffers. He noted the Striker property is already off the tax rolls and could produce revenue through special districts.
Any sale would continue Ramapo’s attempt to offset a financial crisis approaching at least $8 million accumulated during former Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence’s 17-year tenure.
Specht said an audit for 2015 could be ready soon, followed by audits for 2016 and 2017.
He said the Striker property would not be used for housing, another need of the town’s Orthodox Jewish residents but one that’s causing consternation over density for other homeowners, including many Orthodox Jews.
$100 million land purchases
Ramapo spent an estimated $100 million on land purchases using bonds during St. Lawrence’s tenure, which ended with a federal corruption conviction in 2017.
Much of the land was purchased for supposed preservation — including thousands of watershed acres in Torne Valley, in rural and mountainous western Ramapo.
The town already has earmarked for sale the 16.3-acre Suffern Quarry and a vacant 8.3-acre parcel on Pinebrook Road in Chestnut Ridge. The town received offers on the quarry without soliciting, and has drawn up a request for proposals for Pinebrook.
Critics, like Preserve Ramapo Chairman Robert Rhodes, have contended the town never certified the land as protected, so the preservation promise was in name only, as the town could sell the land.
“I suggested years ago that St. Lawrence was stockpiling ‘open space’ land for eventual sale to Hasidic builders,” Rhodes said in an email to a local environmental group called Rocknet.
He argued the developers “were saved the cost of taxes over the last decade and will buy the land at a bargain rate for them but more than (an) honest builder could pay because only they can count on it being drastically down-zoned.”
Rhodes said the fact that the Striker property “is currently zoned for very low density as defined by our current master plan will be found to be irrelevant. More down-zoning for the benefit of just one religious group.”
Ramapo zoning changes to higher-density housing have been approved for developers, including the Lebovitz family’s attempt to build a 474-unit housing development on Patrick Farm along Routes 306 and 202 in the Pomona area.
Pascack Ridge developers Alex Goldberger and Charles Collishaw are seeking to change the zoning to multifamily residential, allowing 12 units per acre on the border with Clarkstown.
Levine and fellow civic activist Deborah Munitz voiced concerns the town would consider selling a large parcel that had been land purchased for preservation. Munitz said the agenda item indicates the Town Board will vote — and likely approve — seeking a buyer.
“There are simply too many large-scale, far-reaching decisions being proposed and made without sufficient analysis or justification in Ramapo, and this appears to be just one more such move on the part of the current administration,” Munitz said.
Levine said if the town needs more than $8 million it quoted as a deficit, officials could seek state approval to borrow money, as the county did to cover its deficit.”
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