County Executive’s Corner: Drawing a Line in the Sand

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

For years, much of Rockland has watched in shock as Ramapo, the county’s largest town, has been overrun by out-of-control, often reckless development.

High-density housing, illegal schools, businesses without permits all allowed to flourish, all seemingly without regard for any kind of planning.

How could such things happen? Wasn’t anyone in charge looking out for the good of the town?

Despite all efforts of my administration, nothing changed. As a matter of fact, things have gotten worse.

A federal jury last week confirmed some of our worst suspicions about Ramapo when it found the town supervisor guilty of fraud.

Let’s hope, for the sake of all of Rockland County, that we’re at the start of a new era in Ramapo. One in which the rule of law is observed above all else.

Make no mistake – what happens in Ramapo affects all of Rockland.

Remember last summer when a deficit of just a couple of inches of rain led to a critical situation in the Ramapo River that forced the entire county to observe drought restrictions?

There is only so much growth that our natural resources and our infrastructure will support.

We cannot allow unfettered, unregulated, unstainable growth. We have now reached critical mass.

I have just announced an Executive Order that we hope will go a long way toward protecting Ramapo and the rest of Rockland County from reckless development.

This Executive Order will prohibit County departments from issuing permits for developments that have not complied with General Municipal Law.

The order was developed after months of study and in collaboration with multiple county departments, including health, planning, fire and emergency services and others. County Attorney Tom Humbach wrote it after much research.

General Municipal Law requires towns and villages to comply with the findings of the County Planning Commissioner or file a reason why a decision has been made not to comply.

Failure to do so will result in the County not issuing permits for such uses as water and sewer connections, well permits, rooming house permits, drainage permits, road opening permits, issuance of new addresses and others.

New York is a Home Rule state, which means that towns and villages can make their own decisions regarding many issues, including planning and zoning.

This Executive Order cannot stop development that defies the County Planning Commissioner.

But we can make it extremely difficult for such development to continue.

Sure, developers can build nearly 500 housing units on top of a crucial fresh water aquifer even though the county has recommended against it, as is the case with Patrick Farm in Ramapo.

But unless the town tells us in writing, in detail why it is overriding the county recommendation – something the town has been loath to do – we will not extend county permits.

Can you build 500 homes without water or sewer hookups? Without curb cuts for driveways? Without dedicated roads or addresses?

Good luck with that.

Certain circumstances trigger provisions under General Municipal Law that force a local municipality —a town or a village –  to send plans to the county planning department.

This includes plans for a proposed zone change, a special permit, certain subdivisions, certain site plans and even changes to local laws.

Reviews are also triggered when a proposed development is near an adjacent municipalities or close to a county road, stream, wetland, park, etc.

If the county review requires modifications or is a disapproval, a super majority of the Town Board, Planning Board, or Zoning Board is needed to override the General Municipal Law findings

The County will be enforcing this order immediately. It applies to all of Rockland County. But we all know that the vast majority of problems with compliance with planning and zoning regulations occur in Ramapo.

The situation has gotten so out of hand that even Ramapo residents who are members of the town’s large Orthodox Jewish population are taking legal action against the town for not upholding zoning laws.

Enough is enough.

This Executive Order is one step toward protecting the quality of life in all of Rockland.

It is our line in the sand.

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