The following is from a Journal News editorial Jan. 10, 2017
“Ramapo’s rampant over-development and strained tax rolls didn’t passively sprout. The misbegotten state of affairs is of the town leadership’s own making. Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, now facing a federal trial on accusations he fudged the town’s fiscal health to fool investors, has pushed policies that have unraveled the town in so many ways. Town Board members — all Democrats, like St. Lawrence — have done little to stop him, and land-use board members, controlled by St. Lawrence, abetted development gone wild.
The motivation? Money. Developers, who often fill campaign coffers of local officials, build and build, and the demand for housing grows and grows.
St. Lawrence has long chased developer dollars and bloc votes from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Over his 16 years leading the town, St. Lawrence has codified policies that allow rampant expansion in the housing stock, while government boards turned a blind eye to rule-breaking that fed illegally constructed housing. Religious exemptions are granted for schools, even when they fail to meet safety measures and disregard permitting requirements.
Some ask why Ramapo residents don’t simply vote in new leadership. The growing non-Orthodox community in Spring Valley and throughout the East Ramapo school district is made up of different immigrant groups, including many new arrivals and those facing extreme poverty. Such a fractured community is likely no match at the ballot box against the bloc vote’s power — in both size and turnout.
It should hardly be a surprise that developers are consistently taking advantage in Ramapo, building what they want, where they want, and then seeking easily granted forgiveness, rather than permission. It’s a fair bet they will never be penalized. Even if there are ramifications, any court-imposed fines are inconsequential compared to the millions that can be made.
It’s noteworthy that no developer has ever been made to dismantle an illegal construction. Taking such a step would send a clear message that flouting the law brings consequences.
Ramapo’s building boom would appear to benefit ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish families who want to remain close to their roots and live in a place that can support their cultural and religious life. But it is a system that enriches developers, who earn huge profits from the rapid growth.
It is the residents of Ramapo — even those who may believe they benefit from St. Lawrence’s policies — who face the financial (and actual) risks these policies have created.
Voters who support candidates who foster such policies inadvertently create a dangerous situation for themselves, their neighbors and first responders. Roads that are too narrow, overcrowded housing made of flimsy materials, and carved-up floor plans that turn homes into mazes create chaos in a fire or other emergency.
Despite the building boom, though, the property-tax base dwindles, due in part to more properties earning tax-exempt status.
The town and county cannot withstand Ramapo’s rapid growth, especially when much of it is undocumented and unmeasured.
The cost will be paid beyond Ramapo’s borders: roads that can’t handle extra traffic; limited sewer capacity; threatened drinking water resources.”
Read the full text of the editorial here.