Foil: Your right to Know.
On September 14, 2023 Micheal Miller of CUPON Hillcrest sent the following email:
Through the excellent legal work of Susan Shapiro and Deb Munitz the courts have upheld CUPON’s contention that the Pascack Ridge project was ill-conceived and illegal.
This is further proof that the Town of Ramapo and its appointed Boards do not / cannot follow the state and local laws and the needs of ALL of its residents. And when they don’t, the residents can use the courts to force compliance.
This proposed project, like all others in Ramapo in recent years, was to be built for the ultra-orthodox community in the middle of the largest minority community in Rockland County. While we understand many different types of housing are needed we are opposed to projects that are built exclusively for one segment of the population and excluding all others.
The proposal to build 224 units of housing in the Hamlet of Hillcrest between Spring Valley and Nanuet, along North Pascack Road and Ewing Avenue met with resistance from CUPON-Hillcrest and the community neighbors. Our requests were quite simple since the town had rezoned the property to legalize the development of multifamily housing, we asked for shared facilities with the new development including:
· recreational facilities and a park, since there aren’t any in Hillcrest
· borders to shield the existing homeowners from the sight of the large project along the hill
· allow sales and rentals for all residents
· prevent housing discrimination, especially in this multi-cultural neighborhood;
· thorough reviews on the environment, infrastructure, and community character to be done to mitigate the impact on the existing community.
Their half-hearted approach to act in good faith on these issues resulted in the CUPON-Hillcrest lawsuit detailed below.
Not only did the court find that they violated the review (SEQRA) process and ordered them to redo the entire process, the judge also suggested that they reduce the size and scope of the project. We did not win every decision – the judge declined to rule on our housing discrimination claim but we are going to continue to pursue a just verdict on that. As in prior court decisions against the town of Ramapo’s causeless actions, they and the builder will probably resubmit these same plans again, and CUPON will be watching!”
The report from The Journal News provided a link to the decision and a detailed review of the issues:
Court case challenging Ramapo approval stalls 224-unit Pascack Ridge housing development
The site of the proposed Pascack Ridge 224 unit housing complex on Pascack Road and Ewing Avenue in Ramapo outside Spring Valley and Clarkstown. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)
“A development of 224 townhouses remains stalled after a state court judge again ordered town officials to properly re-review the project for environmental and land-use approvals.
Supreme Court Judge Paul Marx again found the Town Board zone change allowing the high-density housing failed to properly consider the environmental effects of the project. Marx this month reaffirmed his February decision to send the project back to the town for re-review.
Marx ruled the five Town Board members failed to follow all New York State Environmental Quality Review Act procedural rules involved in the rezoning of the nearly 28 acres off Pascack Road and Ewing Avenue, outside Spring Valley and Clarkstown.
The town’s 2014 approvals for the high-density Pascack Ridge development are being challenged by the Hillcrest unit of Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods, a grassroots organization known as CUPON. The group has grown to have separate branches in most Rockland municipalities and across the region.
“We hope this decision makes it clear to Ramapo that they must follow the law, properly conduct SEQRA, and abide by New York State lawful procedures,” CUPON attorney Susan Shapiro said Wednesday.
CUPON leaders and Shapiro wanted Marx to annul the rezoning and have the town specifically consider the racial and ethnic impact of the development’s future residents. Marx rebuffed CUPON on that issue. He ruled that SEQRA doesn’t require a review on racial or ethnic grounds. He cited appeals court rulings that said projecting the future racial makeup of a housing development is speculative and beyond the court’s purview.
Both the town and CUPON petitioned to reargue their cases after Marx’s February decision and the development remained approved in limbo. On Sept. 6, Marx essentially held firm on his February ruling, sending the environmental issues back to the Town Board and then reconsideration by the land-use boards.
Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht said Wednesday the Town Board will discuss Marx’s decision with the town’s counsel, George Lithco of J&G Law. Lithco specializes in environmental law and land and zoning use. Specht said the supposed environmental review omissions occurred at the start of the process under the prior administration and town procedures have since been improved.
Lithco said Marx’s “decision concluded that the SEQRA process was flawed because the Town Board did not identify other involved agencies when it began the SEQRA process in 2014 and therefore did not properly coordinate review of the rezoning with those agencies.”
Marx’s decision is open to appeal by the town, CUPON, or the developer, Alex Goldberger of Monsey Lumber in Spring Valley.
“At this point, we’re digesting the decision and will talk to counsel to see what our options are,” Specht said. “We will decide whether it’s something worthwhile to appeal. The board could start again or the developer could appeal.”
The court action came after the Town Board approved a high-density MR-12 zone for the Pascack Ridge project. Many Clarkstown residents and officials had opposed the zone change, while others argued housing was needed.
The zone change allows Goldberger to build 244 units on a maximum of 12 units per acre. The previous zone maxed out at 100 units on nearly 28 acres — 56 two-family units and 44 single-family units.
The Town Board approval came after the Rockland Planning Department disapproved of the zoning amendments. The department found that “less dense zoning designation is more suitable for the environmentally constrained Pascack Ridge site.”
Shapiro said the court agreed with CUPON that Ramapo improperly segmented rezoning approvals from its subdivision and site plan approvals. She said the 224 multifamily residences would have more than a thousand bedrooms on the environmentally sensitive Pascack Ridge site.
She noted that Marx also found that among other issues Ramapo failed to notify Rockland County permitting agencies, including Rockland County Drainage, that they needed to participate in the environmental review to ensure the protection of public health and safety, as well as community and natural resources.
Shapiro said Ramapo’s planning miscues are costly to the taxpayers and potentially endanger the environment and water supply.
Shapiro said the larger issue is Goldberger has not lived up to the basis for the zone change: providing affordable housing units. She said the developer plans to sell the units at market value and has not agreed to rentals.
“This is not the first time Ramapo failed to follow New York state land-use procedures, in its rush to approve high-density development on environmentally sensitive lands, upon which Rockland’s drinking water supply and sewer system rely,” Shapiro said.
Goldberger’s conceptual plan called for 224 units in 32 three-story townhouse buildings, along the hilly landscape with overhead power lines adjacent to residential areas of mostly single-family homes. The property contains a stream and wetlands.
The concept could include apartments with six bedrooms, two bedrooms, and three bedrooms, according to Goldberger’s draft environmental impact statement. CUPON raised concerns about the Goldberger development being segregated and catering to Orthodox Jewish residents. Since 2004 all the multi-housing units in Ramapo have been exclusively white and segregated, the group has said.
Goldberger and his attorney, Daniel Richmond, have said Pascack Ridge planners have followed environmental regulations and the housing will be open to everybody, like at other Goldberger developments. He said the law mandates all people must have an opportunity to live there.
Pascack Ridge is not the only proposed housing development tied up with lawsuits by local organizations.
The Patrick Farm development of 474 homes amid the environmentally sensitive property along routes 306 and 202 in semi-rural Ramapo had been delayed by legal challenges for years. The development has returned to Ramapo land-use boards as Harriman Meadows and new owners, PF RE Holdings LLC.
The development resurfaced with new landowners after the litigation led the original developers, the politically connected Lebovits family, to sell.”
Read the complete Journal News coverage here.