Foil: Your right to Know.
“The development of 474 homes amid the environmentally sensitive Patrick Farm property in semi-rural Ramapo has been resurrected before town land-use boards after a grassroots organization’s legal actions stalled the project.
Patrick Farm–Visual representing the original planned construction for the site.
The development has returned under a new name, Harriman Meadows, and new owners, PF RE Holdings LLC.
And the Ramapo Organized for Sustainability and a Safe Aquifer will be watching. The group, known as ROSA, will monitor the progress to ensure the developer’s respect for the environment, including wetlands and drinking water sources, and town zoning laws.
In a statement, ROSA leaders Suzanne Mitchell and Deb Munitz said of the project’s revival, “ROSA 4 Rockland will continue to advocate for clean water, a healthy ecosystem, and use the full extent of the law to protect our shared water supply.”
The refiled development plans as Harriman Meadows are substantially the same as the prior proposal, said Dennis Lynch, an attorney for Ramapo, citing information from the Ramapo Planning Department.
Harriman Meadows’ attorney, Michael Klein, didn’t return a call for comment. Klein is familiar with the development. He worked as Ramapo’s town attorney when the Town Board increased the project’s density with a zone change in 2010 and during the years of litigation against the town and the developer by ROSA and other residents.
Housing development challenged in court
ROSA formed over the development scheme for Patrick Farm but has intervened with legal actions across Ramapo to stymie what is perceived as overdevelopment. Patrick Farm contains the headwaters and recharge fields for the federally protected sole-source aquifer that supplies the drinking water supply in Rockland and Bergen County, New Jersey.
ROSA’s monitoring and legal actions led to court rulings that the town failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of the development, located near a horse farm used by the Rockland Sheriff’s Office’s Mounted Unit and a 130-acre parcel targeted for a rabbinical college with dormitories in Pomona.
The vigilance derailed the project, forcing the previous owners, the Lebovits family’s Scenic Development, to become tax delinquent in 2015, owing the county government $605,788.
The project has been relatively dormant since Scenic Development sold the six parcels making up the 206-acre property in December 2019 to PF RE Holdings, controlled by developer Daryl Hagler of Suffern. The six residential zoned parcels’ value is estimated at $7 million.
The Lebovits family had purchased the 206 acres in 2001 for $7.5 million under Scenic Development. The land became available after Clarkstown’s efforts to build a golf course stalled before that town’s Planning Board. The land was once the bucolic estate of writer John Patrick, winner of a 1954 Pulitzer Prize for his play “The Teahouse of the August Moon.”
Scenic Development was primarily owned by Yechiel Lebovits and his son Isaac, both politically influential longtime builders in Ramapo.
At the time of the Lebovits purchase, Ramapo had zoned the land for single-family homes, permitting an estimated 100 houses on roughly 2-acre lots. The Ramapo Town Board in January 2010 increased the property’s value and development density by rezoning the land at the Lebovits’ request to allow eight multiple-family homes per acre. Prior to the change, multi-family housing had not been permitted in the more rural areas of Ramapo.
Critics abound against the project’s scope
The size of the development, its location near water sources, the Columbia Gas pipeline, environmental issues, and the town Planning Board’s previous lack of scrutiny remain concerns. ROSA’s legal actions and other advocates brought out misidentified wetlands, a massive gas pipeline originally not included in the environmental review, and challenged the Ramapo Planning Board approval process.
Attorney Susan Shapiro, who lives near the site and legally challenged the development on behalf of her parents, has long argued Patrick Farm was improperly enacted, and the approvals were invalid.
Hillcrest firefighters contended the proposed development’s inner roads were not wide enough to accommodate firetrucks. Attorney Bruce Levine and his client argued in court the town didn’t consider the impact of the Columbia Gas line on the development.
The Harriman Meadows project recently appeared before the Ramapo Community Design Review Committee, a first step in the land-use review process. The committee referred the project to the Town Board.
“We hope the Town Board brings fresh eyes to this proposed development on what we know is an environmentally sensitive piece of land,” ROSA leaders said, joining the town planner’s call for the Town Board to hold public hearings during the environmental review.
Shapiro, in a letter to the CDRC, argued the town and land-use boards must start the reviews from scratch and cannot rely on previous environmental studies and documentation.
Shapiro said the developer has not yet revised site plans to address environmental constraints. Shapiro wrote the developer should ensure the development has a broad mix of housing options, including rentals and true affordable housing to avoid segregated housing.
Shapiro argued the original draft environmental impact statement did not consider the following, which should be considered as alternatives:
- Not building around the perimeter to better screen the visual impacts of multi-family housing from the single-family home, scenic road area
- Requiring wetland buffers around wetlands C, D, E, and F to protect recharge fields and downstream public water wells
- Maintaining the wooded forest on Lot 88 to protect the view of multifamily homes from historic Route 202 and move stormwater drainage basins onto the multifamily zone
- Avoiding roads and services crossing the pipeline for public safety
- Environmentally constrained non-buildable lands (wetlands, pipeline easements, utility easements and steep slopes) should not be rezoned and should be kept in the R-40 area where clustering might better protect them; and
- Considering clustered zoning for the remaining R-40 lands
“The process must begin anew,” Shapiro wrote, referring to court nullification of previous reviews and approvals. “The SEQRA determination for a fairly identical application was nullified and as such those findings do not exist to be supplemented. The facts relied on in the prior DEIS are outdated, and the foundational information upon which the site plan was designed included false information, outdated data, and outdated Town conditions.”
Read the complete Journal News story here.