This past Monday, hundreds of residents crammed Clarkstown Town Hall to attend the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. The Zoning Board of Appeals Agenda contained four new items. Many residents were concerned with only one; an application submitted by Ramah Day Camp seeking to change its approved use of a seasonal day camp to a year round facility.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is the arm of the government that allows, upon application and after meeting certain requirements, a homeowner or business to use a property in a manner not permitted by the local zoning regulations.

Currently, Ramah Day Camp is a camp that combines recreational activities together with Judaic studies and teaching to its campers. Located on Christian Herald Road in Valley Cottage, Ramah Day Camp is located on a historic and scenic lot. The structures and homes in the area are considered architectural masterpieces. The camp received a special permit from the Town of Clarkstown years ago to operate as a seasonal summer day camp and has operated without incident.

That all changed several months ago when officials were called to the camp to answer a fire alarm from a fire that started in a kitchen. Upon arrival, town officials discovered that the camp was being occupied in violation of its permit. Town officials learned that Ramah Day Camp was leasing out portions of the camp to Rockland Country Day School. The camp was being utilized by Rockland Country Day School for educational use when it only had approval for a seasonal day camp.

The Town of Clarkstown issued Ramah Day Camp a violation and attempted to prosecute in Clarkstown Justice Court. However, upon filing of an application with the Zoning Board of Appeals, prosecution was stayed, pending the outcome of the hearing.

Monday’s meeting was attended by several hundred concerned residents. Many of the residents were forced to stand and wait in the halls in order to voice their concerns. A vast majority of the concerns were urging the Zoning Board of Appeals to deny the application. Residents feared that, if approved, the camp would turn into a religious facility with dormitory housing, similar to the use by Rockland County Day School. Upon conclusion, the Zoning Board of Appeals closed the public hearing and postponed a vote.

One fact that was omitted during the presentation to the Zoning Board was that the president of Board of Trustees for Rockland County Day School is Keith Cornell. In addition to being president of the entity that improperly rented the Ramah Day Camp, Mr. Cornell is also a deputy town attorney for the Town of Clarkstown. One would be remiss to not question whether Mr. Cornell’s involvement in this situation will have any bearing on the outcome by the board.

It is important to remember that Ramah Day Camp only applied to the town after it was caught using the property unlawfully. No one bothered to attempt to legitimize the unlawful use until after it prospered by taking advantage of the town and its residents.

With all of the development going on in Rockland County it seems that more and more people are taking advantage of local zoning regulation. After getting caught, they then seek to have the municipality condone the very unlawful use that they thumbed their noses at initially. When local officials take office and raise their hand and swear to uphold the laws of the State of New York and the laws of their respective government, let’s hope that they will uphold the laws for everyone and not just a select few.

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