Residents packed Ramapo Town Hall to speak out on the proposed zone change for the Pascack Ridge housing project on Aug. 15, 2019 (Photo: Steve Lieberman)
“Hundreds of residents packed Town Hall as talks got heated on a zone change that would allow a Pascack Ridge developer to build at least 220 housing units on less than 30 acres along the Clarkstown and Spring Valley borders.
After listening to nearly two dozen speakers over several hours on Thursday night — most of whom trashed the project as over-development favoring ultra-Orthodox Jews and out of character for the area — the Town Board’s five members closed the public hearing, but will accept written comments and emails to the Town Clerk’s Office until Sept. 3.
A zone change decision would come afterward. At least four of the five board members would have to approve the change as the Rockland Planning Office has rejected the development scheme as not meeting zoning standards for the area.
During the hearing, comments got nasty at times, including accusations of town officials catering to the needs of the Hasidic Jewish community at the expense of secular residents. Several speakers, including Hasidic residents, backed the zone change and denounced what they called hateful comments.
The main developer, veteran builder Alex Goldberger, who owns Monsey Lumber, wants to build 220 units in 32 three-story townhouse buildings on 27.6 acres, with the maximum allowable units at 290. A development of 290 units could include 133 six-bedroom apartments, 133 two-bedroom units and 24 three-bedroom apartments for an estimated 1,062 people, according to the developer’s draft environmental impact statement.
For such a development, the builder would need a zone change to MR-12, allowing a maximum of 12 units per acre. Under the current residential zone, the developer can build and sell 56 two-family units and 44 single-family units, according to the statement.
Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan, D-Orangetown, said the county’s Pascack Brook runs through the property, giving the county oversight, and she’d support County Executive Ed Day’s warning that the county would block development by withholding permits for sewer, water, roads and other needs.
She said the proposed development meets only two of the eight guidelines for approval and runs counter to the county’s 2011 comprehensive plan, contending the existing neighborhoods must be preserved.
Marilyn Pauloski of Suffern said the developer’s high density concept threatens area water sources, clean air and increases traffic. “If you push this through, you would be trampling our rights,” she told the board.
‘Where’s affordable housing?’
Environmental attorney Susan Shapiro said residents are not benefiting from Pascack Ridge, aside from added traffic and drainage to area homes.
She said Ramapo’s previous high-density developments have become segregated with only whites. Others argued that only ultra-Orthodox Jews moved into the housing, including a Main Street housing development in Spring Valley and the Elm Street Ramapo Commons development.
Shapiro said the units in those developments are sold or rented before the projects are completed.
“Where’s the affordable housing?” she asked. “These (high density developments) are the most segregated communities. Part of the problem is you have not allowed the houses to be put on the public market. You should demand that if you approve the zone change, any new housing has to be available to all.”
Legislator Aron Weider, D-Spring Valley, drew audience boos and cat-calls when he castigated the hateful language and targeting of the Hasidic Jews when it came to development and other issues. He said he “has faith the duly elected board will do the right thing.”
Weider singled out Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, for writing in a Journal News/lohud opinion piece that ” ‘this project will only serve one group,’ namely Jews in Ramapo.”
His comment on who benefits drew cries of “Yes” from the audience, along with some countering that Jaffee didn’t state what Weider claimed. Weider then said she implied it.
Linda Pistolesi of Spring Valley, criticized Weider’s comments and noted the project is mislabeled multiple-family housing, noting the 133 six-bedroom apartments appeals to the religious community.
Michael Parietti of Preserve Ramapo said building high-density housing only encourages an increase in the population as people move to Ramapo from places like Brooklyn. He said the town’s catering to the Hasidic Jews for votes is blatant housing and voter discrimination.
“This is being done by design,” Parietti said to applause. “Housing is not being built, deliberately not being approved for any other community” of people needing one- or two-bedroom homes. “This is being done to block bust and shift demographics” to empower the bloc vote.
Drawing loud applause, Parietti said “Can you imagine if we had housing where Hasidic people can’t move in. When are you going to so something to make sure the housing is not completely segregated.”
Clarkstown planners oppose the zone change and the development as does CUPON and ROSA grass root groups fighting over-development.
Rockland Planning Office will be reviewing the updated proposal, but County Executive Ed Day’s office said the representation that the proposed high-density zoning matches the surrounding mostly single-family community is patently false;.
“This would be a massive change to the fabric of the community,” Day said in a statement.
In August 2018, as well as twice in 2014, the county planners disapproved the project for factors including significant environmental constraints, but also because implementing a multifamily residential zoning on the property is inconsistent with the objectives of Ramapo’s Comprehensive Plan and out of character with the neighborhoods.
Clarkstown also has opposed the development for years. In 2014, Goldberger, wanted to build about 190 apartments on his 18.5 acres. Charles Collishaw, owner of 171 N. Pascack Road, is hoping to build 27 apartments on 3 acres.
Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann said in statement that the town is concerned the “proposal seeks to connect streets that are dead ended, which will bring high volume traffic and alter the character of neighborhoods of single family homes.”
None of the Ramapo Town Board members commented during the hearing, which was nearly three hours long.
Read the complete Journal News coverage here.