Peter Katz has become the first Ramapo resident to take the town to court for permitting the conversion of a single-family house into a school without approved site plans and other permits.
Katz argues in his legal action that Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia arbitrarily issued a temporary building permit for Congregation Yeshiva Zera Yakov to open a school at 101 Carlton Road and the Ramapo Zoning Board of Appeals incorrectly upheld Mallia’s decision as valid under town zoning law.
The congregation, overseen by Yakov Ostreicher of New Square, has gutted the inside of the two-floor, wood-framed house and built two large classrooms with multiple bathrooms for an estimated 75 students and five staff members, according to Katz’s legal papers.
The students would be boys ages 13 to 16 and would attend classes Sunday through Friday.
“It’s nonsense,” Katz said. “You can call it what you will but this is still a wood-framed house. You can’t convert without a special-use permit from the Planning Board, a public hearing, an environmental review. Mallia gave them a permit when he shouldn’t have.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals recently turned down Katz’s request to overrule Mallia’s June 22 decision.
“The town basically has said that we will continue to operate this way until a judge tells us otherwise,” Katz said. “One of the key reasons why I chose to challenge the town in this critical matter is because the planning and permitting process in Ramapo is totally broken.”
Katz, a businessman, has filed a legal action called an Article 78 challenging the ZBA decision of Nov. 17, demanding the court order the town to go through the process of considering a special-use permit. He said the ZBA had five days to file its decision outlining its reasons for supporting the permit with the Town Clerk’s Office and hasn’t done so.
Ramapo Fire Inspector Michael Lepori and assistant planner Lawrence Picarello said the Carlton Road house cannot be used as a school, according to court papers. Rockland County planners also opposed the project. The Tallman Fire Department added the school lacked adequate parking and raised concerns that temporary school permits can become permanent without approvals, citing another school at 95-97 Highview Ave., the documents say.
Jack Gross, a neighbor of the Carlton Road house, said he is concerned the school will grow beyond the 75 students estimated. Gross had joined Katz and another neighbor, Sharon Kronenberg, in an earlier court action against the school that was withdrawn when the state judge ruled the ZBA must first act.
Katz said he, Gross and Kronenberg are Orthodox Jews and not opposed to yeshivas, but want zoning laws followed.”
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