On Sunday, The Journal News devoted its entire front section to an examination of the accelerating, crushing growth in the Town of Ramapo. The cautionary lead on the front page was followed by six feature articles in section one, all dealing with the growing crisis in a town with uncontrolled development, a collapsing tax base, and top-level administrators busy working on their legal defenses against scores of federal charges. The dry rot resulting from endemic political corruption threatens the entire community.
The six features in section one are divided by six separate themes:
“It’s Ramapo’s lack of zoning and safety code enforcement, not religion, that has encouraged development chaos and divided the town.
Explosive population growth combined with conversion of homes into tax-exempt yeshivas and synagogues means shrinking town revenues.
There’s big money to be made: Demand for housing drives development, while lack of code enforcement makes things easier and more lucrative for builders.
Government inaction is prompting grassroots efforts to curb willy-nilly building. In some cases, with a rabbi’s blessing, Jews are suing other Jews over questionable developments.
Cultural differences and a lack of communication result in mistrust, suspicion and accusations of favoritism and anti-Semitism.
Albany has been slow in responding to fears over Ramapo’s failure to enforce even minimal state building and fire codes.”
Here are summaries of the stories with direct links to the complete online text on the LoHud website:
Ramapo Nears Breaking Point
“A generation ago, there were few problems between Ramapo’s small ultra-religious Jewish communities and the gentiles and other Jews who made up the bulk of the town’s population.
Things have changed. As the ultra-religious community has grown, Ramapo has become a flash point in a continuing conflict over what it means to live in the suburbs. The idyllic version of leafy bedroom communities close to New York City — with groomed lawns and white picket fences — is being replaced by chaotic, high-density sprawl that many find overwhelming and unsafe. The conditions fueling that conflict are now threatening to spread beyond Ramapo’s borders.
Surrounding communities have taken notice, and they are adopting measures aimed at heading off the strife that has become the norm for their municipal neighbor. No place, it seems, wants to become “the next Ramapo.”
Read the complete article here.
Corruption: Ramapo officials disciplined for development issues
“Critics say loose zoning laws, a lack of inspections, and lax enforcement of building and fire safety codes have created the chaotic character of development in Ramapo.
In the past two years, a number of Ramapo officials have been arrested or disciplined in connection with development issues:
Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and former Deputy Town Attorney Aaron Troodler face a federal trial in April on wire and securities fraud charges related to the financing of the town’s minor league baseball stadium and other projects of the Ramapo Local Development Corp.”
Others arrests include newly elected Councilman Samuel Tress, Michael Klein, Nathan Oberman, and Anthony Mallia. Convicted are the former Mayor of Spring Valley Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret. Ramapo Fire Inspector Adam Peltz was suspended and demoted after the state said he filed reports without actually inspecting four private schools.
That complete article can be read here.
One developer invests millions in Ramapo’s housing boom
“One person particularly adept at the process has been Berel Karniol, a Monsey resident who comes from a London real-estate family. Karniol is executive director of Mechon l’ Horyoa, a religious institution on Maple Avenue that includes a rabbinical court, a kosher certification service and a “kollel,” a gathering of scholars, mostly married men, in an institute for the advanced study of the Talmud.
Karniol acknowledged contributing $40,000 to the political committees of Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, Ramapo Democrats and Samuel Tress, but said he was not a political person. He denied any connection between the donations and the approvals for new homes he was seeking, saying he made the contributions simply because he was asked.
Last year Karniol bought a modern, red-brick single family home at 19 Cedar Lane, just west of Kaser, for $1.3 million. He obtained approval for construction of a building with three condominiums and an accessory apartment behind the house. That work is nearly finished.
But Monsey Cedar LLC, the Karniol company that owns the property, has been issued a summons for allowing a boys school in the single-family home without site plan approval for a change of use.”
Complete story can be read here.
Herrick Avenue: A Microcosm of Ramapo
“In many ways, Herrick Avenue and the surrounding street are a microcosm of Ramapo’s densely populated Monsey hamlet, just north of Route 59 and immediately west of Spring Valley. Herrick runs north-south in two stretches, from West Central to Maple avenues and then to a dead end just past First Street.” Complete story here.
What Albany has and hasn’t done in Ramapo
“State government is responsible for creating minimum building code and fire safety laws and ensuring that local municipalities adhere to those standards. The state also sets inspection requirements for public facilities such as schools and houses of worship. The state also provides school funding, and, if necessary, fiscal oversight of school districts. While critics say Albany should be more aggressive in forcing Ramapo to comply with standards, some steps have been taken:
The New York state Department of State moved in December to monitor the Ramapo and Spring Valley building departments, after about three years of investigation into the lack of local enforcement of the fire, safety and zoning codes.
The state crackdown followed pressure and complaints by firefighters, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and Rockland County Executive Ed Day about illegal schools and illegally converted housing that have proliferated across the town and the village.
The state has questioned Rampo’s lack of inspections and code enforcement, issuing reports critical of both town and village governments for allowing unsafe conditions to exist for tenants, students and first responders in houses and private schools.”
Read the complete story here.
A timeline: Five decades of rapid growth
“Key events in the evolution of zoning in Ramapo, N.Y.:
1954 — Brooklyn-based Skverer Rebbe Yaakov Yosef Twersky purchases a 130-acre dairy farm near Spring Valley, in Ramapo, to establish a Hasidic Jewish community that became known as New Square. The name, anglicized by a typist, is taken from the City of Skver in what is now Ukraine.
1955 — The Tappan Zee Bridge opens, connecting Rockland and Westchester counties. With commuting to and from New York more convenient, more city residents begin moving to Rockland.”
Events are listed up to December 2016 when the state sent monitors to oversee the Ramapo and Spring Valley building departments. See the full chronology here.
Interactive map of 7 areas slated for massive development
You can see maps of 7 areas that either are currently in development or likely to head in that direction from Patrick Farm and Tartikov at one end of town to the old drive-in site on Route 59 in Monsey. Click here for the maps.
The Journal News has scheduled a panel discussion of the issues presented in these articles on January 25 at the Rockland Community College Technology Center in Suffern from 7 pm to 9 pm. More on this as we get closer to the date.