“Town officials continue to wrestle with the future of properties once bought for profit and for green and historic preservation as part of an ambitious plan to prevent development.
With the town facing an estimated $8.5 million deficit, officials are contending with new financial realities as demands for more housing clash with demands for open space.
On Monday night, five of those dozens of properties were discussed during a public hearing that lasted several hours and was attended by dozens of residents who packed Ramapo Town Hall.
Residents and organizations offered views that ranged from rehabilitation of buildings, passive park development, and preservation to partnering with nonprofits to better use the properties for affordable housing, their historic value, and cultural and educational purposes.
Supervisor Michael Specht assured residents the Town Board had made no decisions on recommendations from the Town Asset Review Committee, called TARC. He said the town was seeking public opinions on what to do with the properties, including the potential sale.
No speakers supported selling parcels for housing and commercial development, while several said the town should stick to the commitment to preserve the properties or possibly use land for affordable housing.
During Monday’s meeting, several residents argued the town dedicated the properties as open space for preservation and would need state approval to sell and, in some cases, dedicate an equal amount of replacement land.
“The town of Ramapo doesn’t own these properties,” Michael Castelluccio of the grassroots group Preserve Ramapo said. “You do, the residents of Ramapo. These properties already have been declared open space. The dedication already has been established.”
Several speakers and Specht noted any sales of declared surplus land are subject to permissive referendums in which residents could collect signatures to force a public vote.
The properties discussed were:
- The Burgess Meredith mansion outside Pomona is a rundown building once owned by the iconic actor who starred in the film version of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” played the Penguin on the Batman series and movie, and trainer in “Rocky” movies. The estate Meredith owned with actor Paulette Goddard hosted pig roasts and horse shows. The main house is run down and several residents want the town to rebuild it. The town bought the 7.3 acres for $2.5 million, with zoning for single-family houses and schools. It’s been appraised at $1.8 million, Specht said.
- The Suffern Quarry, which is usually filled with water, draws trespassers. Tilcon Quarry sold the parcel to the town for $1 in December 2006. The town had planned to possibly use the quarry for flood-containment but any development falls under the village of Suffern’s control. The appraised value is $3 million.
- The Hamlets of Ramapo in the Torne Valley is a collection of small rundown houses along a dirt road dating to the Revolutionary War era. The town has been looking to get out of the housing business and has assisted the longtime tenants with finding new homes. Some of the tenants went years without paying rent and the town failed to maintained the 17 houses, officials said. Officials spoke once of selling the land for commercial development. Though the land is zone residential, Specht has ruled out housing. Disturbing the Torne Valley’s migrating rattlesnake population is state concern and has blocked efforts for previous sales and housing development.
- A vacant parcel along Pine Brook Road in Chestnut Ridge. The town bought the land for $1.5 million and it’s appraised at $1.9 million. Some speakers said residents walk through the land.
- Ramapo Cultural Arts Center in Spring Valley was bought during the 1990s for $637,500 and the town invested $1 million in renovations to the former movie theater, which had been showing X-rated movies. Rockland Center for the Arts officials offered to partner with the town on making improvements and program use of the Main Street theater.
The committee has recommended retaining the Saddle River Pool, the Senior Center, the Challenger Center, the Rustic Brook Tennis Facility, and the Equestrian Center.
Several of those properties — like the Equestrian Center — are money losers for the town, but officials said they are working on ways to change their fortunes.
The committee is recommending that some of those properties be considered for expansion, upgrade or repair, with a goal of increasing public usage and enhancing the experience provided to residents.
While the Town Board will make the final decision, the committee includes Specht, his chief of staff Mona Montal, the town purchasing director, Finance Director John Lynch, Deputy Supervisor Brendel Logan-Charles, Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Antosca and land acquisitions coordinator Thomas Sullivan.”
Read the full text of the Journal News story here.