The development has been shut down for months. But its developer has been quite busy.
After the unprecedented stop work order issued by the Town of Ramapo last October against Viola Estates Condominium on Viola Road – the first such order resulting from neighbors fighting the town’s unrestrained overdevelopment – the developer of Viola Estates got to work.
First, he and his supporters pushed rabbonim, dayanim, askanim and other community leaders in an attempt to stop the neighbors who brought the lawsuit that led to the order. But upon hearing the full story, these community leaders stopped their own involvement instead.
Then he sought to create some distance between himself and the project by bringing in another developer. But he couldn’t find anyone to accept his terms.
So he tried to push his way back to the Town to allow him to continue work at the project. But the acting building inspector was “unable to attend” such a meeting, according to the developer.
Now, in a new set of papers, he wants to bypass the building department by applying to the CDRC for a revised site plan, to be heard at its next meeting on February 9th.
Let’s remember the context: the developer spot-zoned the project from 9 families to 44 in an agreement with neighbors that they would not fight his application if he in fact limited the development to 44 single-family units. He then proceeded to build accessory apartments – illegal in his newly created zone and in brazen defiance of his agreement. The neighbors met with him to settle the issue peacefully, but according to court documents, the developer said “he had built and intends to sell the dwelling units as single units with accessory apartments.” When asked to abide by his original agreement with them, he “flatly and repeatedly refused.”
Under the guidance of daas Torah, the neighbors first complained to the Town, which ignored them, and then took the developer to court to enjoin him from building illegal apartments. The court ordered a site inspection by the neighbors’ experts, whose report was jaw-dropping: not only had accessory apartments been built (with separate – and marked – boilers, heating units, plumbing and electric panels, and even kitchens where the plans called for walk-in closets), but preparations were also made for even more apartments to house a total of at least 176 families. At that point, the Town issued its order.
Now the developer is back. In an application for a revised site plan, his attorney acknowledges that a stop work order was issued, but only for changes “not consistent with the site plan or with the Zoning Code,” instead of flagrant violations of law.
“The applicant made changes to the interior of the buildings,” the application continues, “that have been interpreted as preparing the buildings to host illegal accessory apartments” – no doubt a reference to the actual build-out of the apartments, the installation of separate building systems servicing them, and the visible marking of such systems as in fact supplying the accessory apartments. “While the applicant does not agree that the buildings were to be sold as having these accessory apartments, it does acknowledge that the changes were built, [and] that they could have been used by an end user to create the apartments with minor effort,” such minor effort perhaps being to rent them as accessory apartments.
The developer’s application ignores inconvenient truths. It fails to disclose to the CDRC, for example, that a court action had to be brought for the stop work order, which action is ongoing; that the order was issued only after the neighbors’ own experts brought the extent of the wrongdoing to the attention of the court (and not that it was issued by the Building Department “in response to its [own] findings at the site”); and most egregiously, that additional apartments were prepared beyond the accessory apartments which would have resulted in a density of almost 2000% of the original zoning.
The current application says that the developer wants to cure violations “as a showing of good faith” to continue building. Is this like someone who wants to avoid punishment after getting caught stealing by returning the stolen goods as a sign of “good faith”? As the neighbors’ attorney said in open court, “this is a fraud committed on the town, the neighbors and the Attorney General. It’s encouraging that the town issued a stop work order. But what they should have done is revoked his building permit.”