To: Editor Rockland Voice
From: Legislator Christopher Carey
Subject: Proposed High-density Housing Development At Pascack Ridge
Many people have asked me about the results of the latest public hearing on the Pascack Ridge development. Many others have asked what exactly Pascack Ridge is and why it matters, so I will do my best to give a reasonably concise overview along with my thoughts on the issue.
A developer is looking to build up to 294 homes on a tract of land known as Pascack Ridge in Spring Valley, NY. The land is currently zoned for a lower housing density than the project requires, so the developer has requested that the town “re-zone” the property to allow a higher density of homes. Without this zoning change, the project cannot be built as proposed. The Town of Ramapo has been holding required public hearings on the matter and the public outcry against the project has been very strong. Residents in the immediate and adjacent areas have spoken out against the development along with elected officials from both the Town of Clarkstown and the Rockland County Legislature. Both Republicans and Democrats have spoken out against the project. The Town of Clarkstown has threatened to sue the Town of Ramapo if the project is allowed to go forward.
The issue at hand is primarily one of over-development. The land is clearly ill-suited for the amount of homes being proposed. On top of that, the Town of Ramapo is supposed to be following the rules of its own overall plan for zoning and development in the town. This overall vision of how existing homes and businesses are zoned, along with where any future development would be best located is known as the ‘Comprehensive Plan’. Rather than go back and review and abide by the Comprehensive Plan, as required, to see where a development of this size was possibly planned for and would be best situated, the Town of Ramapo is considering making a change to this one specific area the developer wants to build upon. This is called ‘spot zoning’.
The problem with spot zoning is that it breaks the law that requires the town to follow the Comprehensive Plan it has published. It also creates a very dangerous precedent whereby the Comprehensive Plan essentially becomes meaningless and any developer can use Pascack Ridge as a precedent in requesting other spot zoning changes. The homeowners in the area next to this project did not expect to find themselves with 294 housing units next to them because the land was never zoned that way. If those homeowners decide to sell, nothing would stop the town from simply expanding the new zoning designation for Pascack Ridge. The result is further and potentially unchecked over-development. The Town of Ramapo should have denied the zone change request and looked at the Comprehensive Plan to identify another area currently zoned to handle a project of this size. Instead, the town is still considering a spot zone change pending an environmental review.
In the last public hearing, the Ramapo Town Board issued a “positive declaration” on the Pascack Ridge development project. While this might come across to the general public as meaning the board is in favor of going ahead with the development, the actual meaning of a positive declaration is quite different. A positive declaration means that the board recognizes there will indeed be an environmental impact of some sort on the area if the proposed development is allowed to go ahead. The issuing of this positive declaration means that a more thorough and complete environmental study will be conducted. While that sounds like a good development for those of us opposed to this project, it may not actually be the case given the Town of Ramapo’s previous track record on zoning issues.
Again, the Town Board could have simply denied the request for the zoning change at the last meeting and the matter would be closed. Instead of killing the project, the board essentially decided to let it go another step forward. While a further environmental review might seem like a fair and reasonable step, there’s also a good chance it’s not. Studies on any given matter can be conveniently flawed and biased to promote an agenda. Take for example the traffic study conducted on the Pascack Ridge project.
The current traffic patterns and volumes on the nearby roads were analyzed and categorized by the developer’s study submitted to the town, which put a rating of “A or B” on the roads in the during peak traffic hours. This means that there is minimal congestion there now and the current roads are able to handle the volume. The study then looks at the projected impact of adding 294 homes on the Pascack Ridge site. If you take an average of two cars per home, that’s an additional 588 cars moving through two lane roads every day. Surely, this will have some negative impact on traffic in the area, particularly at peak rush hour times. Well, according to the study there won’t be any impact at all. The rating estimate after adding another 588 cars into the traffic mix is still an “A or B.” Does any reasonable person buy into that? I sure don’t, but that’s what the study claims.
In fact, the entire project is so clearly unreasonable that the town’s decision to let it go another step forward must be viewed with skepticism. I urge all residents to drive by the site where this development is proposed to be built. You will see the Pascack Brook winding alongside massive power line towers. You’ll see the Orange & Rockland substation that requires an access easement through the property. You’ll see steeply inclined terrain as you look up from Pascack Road toward Main Street in Spring Valley, and you can easily envision the flooding that will be worsened by the deforestation of the site. Any reasonable person that goes to look at this site will conclude on the spot that this parcel of land is nowhere near suited for the building of 294 new homes. Trust me, drive by and your reaction will be that they must be kidding. The problem is that they’re not.
While the Town of Ramapo would like us to believe they are doing their due diligence, we must all remain vigilant in watching as this project, and others like it, come up for consideration. It is certainly possible the town board is simply buying time here and waiting for the public to lose interest in this matter. I won’t be at all surprised if the supposedly thorough environmental study sees no evil despite all logic that clearly shows otherwise, as was the case with the traffic study. At that point, the town can claim they’ve done their due diligence and there is no valid environmental reason to deny the project. They can then simply ignore the Comprehensive Plan and unleash the bulldozers into the woodlands of Pascack Ridge.
As much as I’d like to assume positive intent from the Ramapo Town Board, it is best to be prepared for the opposite. The fact is that this project should have been denied at the last meeting. The decision to let it live another day raises valid questions regarding the possibility that Ramapo has already decided this project will go forward.
We must keep up the pressure and not let our guard down. I urge all citizens of Ramapo and Clarkstown to monitor the Town of Ramapo’s meeting agendas, to attend board meetings and to voice your opinions to your elected officials. Over-development is one of the biggest issues we face in Rockland County, and Pascack Ridge is at the heart of that matter.
Stopping over-development starts with stopping Pascack Ridge.
For further information please reference my Facebook page and these previous Rockland Voice articles:
1) Councilman Hoehmann Opposes Pascack Ridge Downzoning,
2) Clarkstown Prepared To Take Ramapo To Court,
3) Rockland Exec Blasts Proposed Ramapo Zoning Change
4) Rockland County Planning Department Rejects Proposed High-density Housing.