Former Rockland Legislature chairman says town must require smart, reasonable development that serves all.
“Developers have detailed their vision for the former Minisceongo Golf Course property, a proposal for a vast overdevelopment in a quiet community that is a microcosm of just what is wrong with development in the Town of Ramapo.
Current zoning allows one single-family residence on 1.15 acres. Since the property is about 140 acres, the developer would be entitled to build 122 houses. If there is any unbuildable land on the property, this number should be reduced.
The developers plan to build up to 700 units (the equivalent of five units per acre) and a small retail strip mall. That could bring 1,400 cars in and out of the property onto Pomona Road, burdening two intersections on Route 306 and Route 45 just past the Palisades Credit Union baseball stadium. Most units would have high bedroom counts, and include extra spaces.
The former Minisceongo Golf Course property, to be called Millers Pond, was purchased for $32 million just over a year ago.
Regardless of the cost of purchasing Ramapo’s Minisceongo Golf Course property, the purchaser has no right to develop the land for more than 122 units of housing. The purchaser had no right to gain additional profits by building additional units, except by cutting costs from clustering the development. Even a moderate increase in density (and in profit) must include a simultaneous public good. It should go without saying that development must meet all fire safety, buffer and height restrictions in the code at the time the property was purchased and must not unduly burden traffic. The developer should pay for any required offsite traffic improvements. Traffic from any proposed development must consider the effect on the Pomona Road — Route 306 connection where the stalled but still-alive Patrick Farm housing development could send as many as a thousand more cars onto Route 306.
The town should limit any increased density for Millers Pond to no more than two units per acre — still double the existing zoning. That would be a maximum of 244 units of housing instead of the 122 that are permitted as of right. This reasonably moderate approach will provide for the additional housing needs of our community. I do caution that a detailed review of every proposal is vital to good planning. Prior to a full environmental analysis, this proposal should not be the last word.
In order to make sure that all residents of Ramapo participate in this new housing, units must contain a close to equal mix of bedroom types with units containing one, two, three, four and five bedrooms; these units should not contain extra space like “studies” or high roofs or basements that could easily be converted into extra bedrooms, or even accessory apartments. The developer states that the largest group of units will have three to five bedrooms per unit plus a studio. Insisting on an equal mix of bedroom types ensures diversity.
The units must not be pre-sold and must be marketed to everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, origin, gender or gender orientation.
Twenty percent or about 48 units must be affordable housing, divided equally among unit sizes. This housing must be developed jointly and in partnership with a non-profit housing group like the Rockland Housing Action Coalition, Inc. The purchasers or renters must be means tested and re-sale prices and/or rents must be limited in perpetuity with the deed covenant given to the benefit of a non-for-profit housing group which will keep these units affordable for at least the next 100 years. State and federal financial support through affordable housing tax credits and grants should be sought to guarantee that nondiscrimination is a reality and to maximize the developer’s profits on these units.
At least two buildable acres should be sold or donated for child care or school use, preferably both. Our communities in Ramapo need spaces for community needs and this should be a part of the price for even moderate zoning changes. The developer’s proposed retail strip is completely unnecessary and would only add to traffic.
Also, the development must be beautiful inside, with adequate space between buildings and plenty of green space. Sustainable drainage features should be used to protect surface streams or ponds as well as groundwater. It must also be beautiful outside with no visual impacts on neighbors.
Such a moderate plan for the development of the Minisceongo Golf Course property could benefit all of Ramapo for generations to come. It also reflects the need for balance in planning and zoning matters so that our town can be united again.
The writer, a Montebello resident, is former chairman of the Rockland County Legislature.