Ramapo asks court to shut Eckerson Lane yeshiva for zoning violations
Mosdos Sanz Klausenberg has not responded in state court to Ramapo request that a judge order the Eckerson Lane yeshiva closed after three years of lacking final town approvals
Ramapo has asked a state court to shut down an Eckerson Lane yeshiva for overstaying temporary permits that allowed it to use a house and classroom trailers for students while building a more permanent school.
The yeshiva was opened three years ago by a congregation without approvals. But the congregation later received town permission to use a single-family house for classrooms and add modular trailers for additional students.
Ramapo is arguing in court papers that Mosdos Sans Klausenberg of Monsey is violating zoning regulations after failing to build a school on the property within two years. Town law gives developers one year – with the potential of a 12-month extension – to run a school with temporary modular classrooms while constructing a more lasting structure.
Mosdos Sans Klausenberg apparently is the first school targeted by Ramapo for closure for failing to meet such requirements. The town’s legal action comes while it is under increased scrutiny by the state for how it has conducted its code enforcement.
The town’s court papers say Ramapo Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia gave the congregation a temporary certificate of occupancy July 23, 2013, to use the property’s three-story house for classrooms, finding the building would serve the same purpose as modular trailers.
He also approved installing the modular trailers for additional classrooms a year later, in July 2014.
The Mallia-issued certificate of occupancy for the house expired in July 2015 and no school had been built to date, meaning Mosdos Sans Klausenberg is operating a school unlawfully in violation of town zoning, according to the town’s legal papers, filed April 5 in state Supreme Court in New City.
The congregation also illegally converted the attic into classroom space, the town alleges.
Asked about the litigation, the congregation’s school administrator, Rabbi Abraham Spitzer, e-mailed to The Journal News the town’s Planning Board minutes for April 5 indicating the board’s seven members had approved a special permit for paving the parking lot, install lights and landscaping, and had also approved a revised site plan for a school.
Spitzer wrote, “There’s a misunderstanding. Our project has been approved by the .. Planning Board…”
Spitzer said the congregation will be seeking a building permit to proceed with construction.
“I would like you to know that this is a technical violation,” he contended in the email. “During the time the school had their temporary permit we met all fire and safety regulations.”
The congregation’s attorney, James Licata, didn’t return messages seeking comment. The congregation has not responded to the town in court.
Micheal Miller, a leader of Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods, said Friday that the town’s action is long overdue, but he doubts the town has really turned a corner. He said Ramapo was only taking action in response to the state crackdown on the lack of local enforcement after years of lobbying by Wren, CUPON, County Executive Ed Day and the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force.
He said the town also feels the pressure from ongoing corruption investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Rockland District Attorney’s Office that already have produced charges against the town supervisor and a town council member.
“They classified this house as a trailer,” Miller said Friday on Eckerson Lane as dozens of children left yellow school buses. “It’s obviously not a trailer. Many schools like these don’t conform to local zoning laws and they are allowed to operate. This is Ramapo’s public policy – to allow schools without approvals. The town is not adhering to its own laws.”
The town says Mosdos Sans Klausenberg and seven others schools had received permission as of August 2015 to operate trailer classrooms on a temporary basis. The two-year maximum has expired for six of the schools, including a Highview Road yeshiva that also opened illegally and then continued to expand with the Building Department and town’s permission.
Mallia said he couldn’t comment on the status of the other schools, writing in an email to The Journal News that he’s busy working on the town’s response to a critical state report on the town’s inspections and procedures. The state is threatening to take over inspections for the town and Spring Valley.
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