Last week, The Journal News reported that the Town of Ramapo has begun the process to sell two large tracts of land: the quarry property in Suffern and eight acres on Pinebrook Road in Chestnut Ridge. These same properties were described as “protected” by the currently imprisoned Christopher St. Lawrence and recently fired chief attorney, Michael Klein.Eleven years ago, Preserve Ramapo warned the public that St. Lawrence and his board were accumulating an inventory of purchased property that would be made available to developers at some future time when St. Lawrence either needed the funds and/or his developer support system needed the land. Here is a Community View published in The Journal News explaining the situation:
“In Ramapo, is Open Space Forever?”
By MICHAEL CASTELLUCCIO
(Original Publication: September 27, 2007)
Acting on a tip, Preserve Ramapo submitted a Freedom of Information request for all documents on open space purchases and gifts. The papers returned show that of the 24, for which taxpayers have paid $24 million, only one was dedicated as parkland, the Mitch Miller property next to the supervisor’s home. The rest, all 23, remain without the protective designation.I guess no one thought to ask. All the public statements assured us. The press was told these purchases were protected, and in the “Spring Around Town” brochure mailed out by the town, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher P. St. Lawrence wrote about the open space purchases: “All of our purchases have been officially designated as parkland.” Unfortunately, none of it was true.
We made calls to the project manager of the Trust for Public Land and to a New York state law firm that specializes in environmental law. Both confirmed that the way to protect open space “in perpetuity” is to formally dedicate the property in public session at town board meetings. The dedication consists of a short, legal declaration that requires public notice and acceptance. The Mitch Miller property was preserved in a statement that was only about 200 words. Once dedicated, local politicians must go to the state Legislature to get permission to change the status of the properties, say to sell or develop them.
On Monday, Sept. 10, at the regular Ramapo Town Board meeting, I made a request that the remaining unprotected properties be formally dedicated in an upcoming board meeting, the sooner, the better. There were no comments from the board or supervisor.
The meeting ended, and I went up to Supervisor St. Lawrence and asked the following question: “Do you have any plans to dedicate any of the remaining 23 open space properties as protected parkland in the future?”
His answer was as direct as the question. He simply said, “No.”
To get the open space out of the hands of politicians and developers, there is a simple legal procedure, and St. Lawrence and his board (Ed Friedman, Fran Hunter, and David Stein) are not willing to let the control of these properties shift to the public trust. They are, however, willing to allow the public to wrongly continue thinking that the 23 are protected when they are not.
If these properties, paid for by taxpayers, were not purchased to create a lasting public trust of open space and parkland, then who were they purchased for? Are they the hedge against a future tax crisis that the board and supervisor see on the horizon? Or have they been set aside for favored developers, to be sold later when there’s nothing but wetlands that haven’t been covered over? And, finally, why was the erroneous perception of protection encouraged in public statements by the very same people who admit they have no plans to legally dedicate these properties?
The writer, a Chestnut Ridge resident, is editor of www.Preserve-Ramapo.com.
A complete explanation, including a list of all the properties that the group had collected in purchases and are now available for sale. Included is the one actually protected piece of property, the acres surrounding St. Lawrence’s own home.
Read “Open Space or the Ramapo Real Estate Company” here. The article was first posted in 2007, and it’s still up online on the Preserve Ramapo archive site.