“The state is appointing monitors with investigative authority to oversee the building departments in Ramapo and Spring Valley after years of fielding complaints from officials and first responders about the potentially dangerous lack of fire safety and zoning enforcement in those communities.
The state acted after several years of pressure from Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, Rockland County Executive Ed Day and the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force leaders. They have called for the state to potentially take over the inspection duties in Ramapo and Spring Valley.
The monitors will be assigned because the communities have not done enough to comply with state regulations, state Department of State spokesman Laz Benitiz said Monday.
Secretary of State Rossana Rosado “found significant deficiencies in code enforcement in the town of Ramapo and village of Spring Valley, Benitez said. “The public’s health and safety remains at risk.”
He said the monitors “will work to ensure the town and village properly enforce the state building and fire codes, and will remain until such time as the secretary is satisfied the town and village (are) properly administering and enforcing the building and fire code.”
Zebrowski said Monday that installing state monitors is a serious step, which goes beyond the state’s earlier actions of issuing critical reports and orders to both municipalities to improve enforcement.
Zebrowski said the state has documentation covering three years that shows “a pervasive lack of code enforcement.” He said the public has lost confidence in both municipalities’ ability to provide zoning and building code enforcement.
“Unfortunately, however, the situation has not yet improved,” Zebrowski said. “Inappropriate temporary certificates of occupancy, illegal trailers/schools and excessive variances are still rampant.”
John Kryger, chair of the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force, said he wants to see results. The task force remains concerned about the threat to firefighters who enter buildings not knowing if there are illegal partitions and apartments in basements and attics. Kryger said the approvals by variances by Zoning Board of Appeals and development plans by Planning Board also add to the problems.
“With the state, I go by past performances and its track record in Rockland is horrible and, in my opinion, borders on criminal,” Kryger said. “I can only judge the state by results and nothing, absoluely nothing, has changed in Ramapo and Spring Valley since the state came down more than a year ago. I do not call that progress.”
Day called the state action progress. The county executive and others have been critical of Ramapo for being lax in enforcement and catering too much to the housing and religious needs of the ultra-Orthodox communities.
“Over-development in Ramapo and Spring Valley has reached a critical level, to the point where infrastructure and natural resources are being threatened for all of Rockland,” Day said. “There have long been questions about how this has been allowed to continue seemingly unabated.
“We’re relieved that the state is taking action and we hope this will be a step toward stemming irresponsible development that threatens the quality of life for everyone in Rockland,” he said.”
Read the complete Journal News story here.