By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
You need look no further than a Rockland ballpark to see the results of a total failure of municipal planning in the county’s largest town, Ramapo.
More than 400 children, some as young as five-years-old, are attending classes inside a baseball stadium.
How is this possible?
The immediate cause is obvious. But the planning failures that led to such an absurd situation have festered for years. If they continue unabated those failures endanger all of Rockland County.
The immediate cause was created when the operators of a private religious school, Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland, were granted a temporary certificate of occupancy to open at a five-acre site at 200 Summit Park Road in the village of New Hempstead.
New Hempstead, which is within the town of Ramapo, subcontracts inspection services from the town. The temporary Certificate of Occupancy was issued by the Ramapo Building Department even though the school was obviously nowhere near ready
That meant that adults who should have known better gave permission for children to go to school on an active construction site in 17 trailers that had shoddy, uncertified electrical work and water coming through a garden hose from an unapproved private well.
Even worse, a state monitor put in place in the Ramapo Building Department because of the town’s repeated failures to enforce the law, approved a phony fire hydrant that, as expected, failed to work when tested by firefighters.
The real victims of this failure by the village, town and state are the 400 children and their parents who pay $13,000 annually in tuition to attend this school.
Once again, Rockland County had to step up and use one of the few tools that it has, namely the Sanitary Code, to protect residents.
We sent inspectors to the site and told the operators in no uncertain terms that the Rockland County Commissioner of Health would shut the school down on the spot if students were given unsafe water. Go here to listen to what I said.
Our message apparently got through: Ramapo offered to let the Rabbi who runs the school rent part of Boulders stadium until the most glaring problems are addressed at the Summit Park Road location.
Those are the immediate causes of this situation. But we all know this is not the first time we have seen unsafe, often shocking developments in Ramapo.
Ramapo’s long-standing anything-goes attitude toward planning has come home to roost.
New homes? Sure. Dense townhouse developments? Sure. Single-family residences turned into schools? Why not. Students in “temporary” trailers for years on end? Ok.
All of these conditions were allowed by kangaroo Planning and Zoning boards that failed to balancing planning with resources.
Where will the water come from? Can local roads handle all the traffic? What of the environment? What is the impact on neighborhoods? Can municipal services accommodate the influx of people?
And, crucially, where will children go to school?
None of those questions were asked in Ramapo.
The end result? More than 400 children attending classes in a ballpark.
We had hoped that this kind of nonsense would stop with new leadership in Ramapo.
Ramapo voters have a chance to influence the future of Rockland’s largest town in the upcoming election. As always, we urge everyone to assess and judge the candidates and the issues and vote accordingly.
Regardless of the outcome of the Ramapo supervisor’s election, the people of Rockland County have my word that I will use all the powers that the County has to make sure that children and families are protected and Rockland’s limited natural resources and infrastructure remain intact.
As I’ve said before: Equal treatment for all. Special preference for none.