Airmont Congregation’s Lawsuit Dismissed by State Judge

Congregation’s legal action against Airmont is dismissed by state judge

AIRMONT – An acting state judge rejected an Orthodox Jewish congregation’s  lawsuit claiming Airmont violated its own zoning laws involving a synagogue hit with violations during a village wide building moratorium.

Mayor Philip Gigante applauded the village’s vindication in state Supreme Court, as he also has dismissed allegations made in two federal lawsuits claiming the village discriminates against Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

“Contrary to the petitioner’s allegations, Airmont is committed to enforcing its codes equitably and fairly,” Gigante said. “We believed this complaint to be without merit, and we are glad that the judge agreed and dismissed this action.”

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Acting state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen, an elected County Court judge, wrote the congregation claimed being exempt from the moratorium when that status didn’t exist.

Thorsen agreed with the village that Rabbi Eliezer Halberstam and his congregation needed to seek an exception from the moratorium from the Airmont Board of Trustees. The judge ruled Halberstam’s congregation created its own issues and damages by not seeking available administrative remedies with the village.

The Congregation of Echo Ridge’s issue centered on the moratorium had blocked instituting parking on two adjoining properties at 1 and 3 Echo Ridge Road.

Halberstam, who has claimed the village’s zoning and enforcement is discriminatory, obtained a building permit in 2014 for a Hasidic Jewish synagogue at 3 Echo Ridge Road.

Halberstam declined comment on the decision.

The congregation later bought the property next door at 1 Echo Ridge Road with revamped plans for parking to meet village regulations. The congregation faces millions of dollars in fines for daily violations of the village parking law.

The congregation argued the village approval moratorium – which he and other Orthodox Jews opposed – prevented the congregation from completing its parking plan.

Thorsen wrote the congregation argued the building inspector must approve or disapprove a building permit application. The inspector returned the congregation’s application without a decision, according to the decision.

The judge’s decision stated the congregation also argued the village zoning code required the Zoning Board of Appeals make a determination of the building inspector’s decisions.

 

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Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades, Rockland County, New York, Hardest Hit

New York Confronts Its Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades

Borough Park, Brooklyn, has seen 35 cases of measles in an outbreak affecting more than 200 people in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey.CreditCreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times

Through the fall, traveler after traveler arrived in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York from areas of Israel and Europe where measles was spreading. They then spent time in homes, schools and shops in communities where too many people were unvaccinated.

Within months, New York State was facing its most severe outbreak of the disease in decades, with 182 cases confirmed by Thursday, almost exclusively among ultra-Orthodox Jews. Health officials in New Jersey have reported 33 measles cases, mostly in Ocean County, driven by similar conditions.

In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half the measles cases in the country.

Alarmed, health officials began a systematic effort to bring up vaccination rates and halt the disease’s spread.

But while there has been progress, the outbreak is not yet over. Health officials said part of the problem has been resistance among some people in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to fully cooperate with health workers, get vaccinations and promptly report infections

“Sometimes they hang up and they don’t want to open the door,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner of Rockland County, northwest of New York City, where the worst of the outbreak has been, with 116 confirmed cases. “It’s hard to break an outbreak if you are not getting cooperation.”

Dr. Ruppert said that health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates, she added.

Delayed vaccination also helped fuel the outbreak in the Orthodox communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, which had reported 58 cases as of Thursday, said Dr. Jane R. Zucker, head of the city health department’s Bureau of Immunization.

There have been no deaths in the outbreak, but there have been a few serious cases in young children that required hospitalization.

Measles is one of the most contagious infections and can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed. It usually affects children, and symptoms include high fever and a rash of red spots all over the body, as well as a cough and runny nose. Some 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed in proximity to an infected person will get it.

But the vaccine, when given in two doses — typically around age 1 and age 5 — is about 97 percent effective.

Health officials and sociologists say the reasons for low vaccination rates among the ultra-Orthodox are complex.

In part they are tied to the wider anti-vaccination movement globally, including concerns that the measles vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella, causes autism or other diseases. The idea has been widely debunked but persists in some circles.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder of Darchei Noam yeshiva in Monsey in Rockland County, said that some parents considering admission to his school agonized over giving their children vaccines because they had heard they were dangerous. His yeshiva insisted on them, he said, though he knew of others that did not.

“Good people, great parents were terrified,” he said. “They felt that I was asking to give their children something that would harm them.”

Alexandra Khorover, general counsel for Refuah Health Center, one of the largest health providers in the Rockland community of Spring Valley, said her health workers had encountered “a small pocket of people who are anti-vaccine who have been peddling this information, fostering confusion and fear.”

Part of the reluctance to vaccinate or allow a government health worker to enter the home, though, is cultural.

Samuel Heilman, a Queens College sociology professor who studies the ultra-Orthodox, said that there is a “fear of interference from the outside” rooted in the community’s origins in pre-World War II Europe. More recently, the ultra-Orthodox have fought back against other health department efforts, such as New York City’s efforts to limit a controversial circumcision practice, metzitzah b’peh, because of warnings from health officials that it causes herpes in infants.

“They have accepted the idea that they live by different rules than others in the outside community,” Mr. Heilman said.

While this insularity allowed the measles to spread, it has also had a protective effect on wider public health, at least so far. In part because ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to attend their own religious schools and patronize their own shops and restaurants, the disease has remained in Orthodox circles, save for several infections among non-Jewish workers linked to their communities, health officials said.

The outbreak in New York and New Jersey can be traced to the rise of measles in Israel, where some 2,700 cases and two deaths were reported in 2018, centered in Jerusalem.

In Europe, which was the source of at least some of the Brooklyn infections, some 65,000 cases were reported in the year ending October 2018, with high concentrations in Balkan countries and Ukraine.

A flier distributed in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities by the New York City Health Department.CreditNew York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
A flier distributed in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities by the New York City Health Department.CreditNew York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

As measles spread in New York, public health officials swung into action. Some 40,000 fliers were printed in English, Yiddish, Spanish and other languages warning of the Israeli outbreak and calling for people to be vaccinated. Health officials met with rabbis and pediatricians, who sounded the alarm to their congregations and patients.

“We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health,” said Rabbi David Niederman, a community leader and executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.

In Rockland County, which includes the large ultra-Orthodox community of New Square, the authorities put 59 schools under “exclusion orders,” forbidding unvaccinated children to attend even if they had a valid religious or medical exemption to the vaccine. The orders are lifted when a school’s vaccination rate reaches 95 percent, which state authorities consider protective of public health. Eighteen schools have had the orders lifted, officials said.

In Brooklyn, some children have been out of school for months because of similar exclusion orders by health officials, said Rabbi David Zwiebel, the executive director of Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization. Tensions are high, with some parents still refusing to vaccinate because of health fears, and others relenting.

“There has been some harsh language exchanged on both sides,” Rabbi Zwiebel said.

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Rockland Illegal Housing and Non Public Schools Task Force Chair Says, “Death Warrants Signed”

Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski announce plans to immediately inspect private schools for building code and fire safety on May 26, 2016. (Photo: Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

State pulls monitor overseeing Ramapo building inspectors; says minimum requirement met

“A state monitor assigned nearly two years ago to oversee the town fire and safety inspections and building department administration has been pulled from Town Hall.

After assigning the oversight in response to years of complaints about Ramapo’s deficient enforcement of fire safety and building codes, the state has determined the Ramapo Building Department has shown improvement and now meets the minimum standards.

“”As far as I am concerned, they signed the death warrant for residents and firefighters.” Justin Schwartz

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LETTER: State releases Ramapo monitor

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A state monitor continues to oversee the Spring Valley Building Department. That monitor also was assigned due to the village’s inefficient enforcement of fire and safety codes.

The decision to remove the monitor has been met with derision and concerns by advocates, such as state Assmblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and firefighters who fought for the oversight and demanded improvements.

PREVIOUS: Zebrowski called for investigation 

“We haven’t seen any improvements,” said Justin Schwartz, a volunteer firefighter who chairs the Rockland Illegal Housing and Non Public Schools Task Force.

“As far as I am concerned, they signed the death warrant for residents and firefighters,” Schwartz said.

Zebrowski said the state efforts have fallen short, but he said the fight for safer housing and enforcement continues.

“I feel an opportunity was missed here because I envisioned a far more robust process with input from firefighters and the public,” Zebrowski said. “The state cites specific improvements that they feel brought code enforcement up to the minimum standards; but I won’t just take their word for it.”

Zebrowski said that “to truly achieve proper building code and fire safety, we need clear standards and a robust enforcement system, starting with the inspector and continuing through the local courts.”

Schwartz noted the lack of deterrence is the town declining to enforce a judicial order to close down a private school operating without proper town approvals. Ramapo officials are allowing the school to stay open and go before the Planning Board for needed site plan approval to get a certificate of occupancy.”

Read the complete Journal News story here.

The Charrette Meetings and a Lakewood Parallel…. Perhaps Investment Clubs Should be Set Up to Buy and to Hold Property

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Miller Lobbyist to Swap for Preservation Property at Costco-Brick Border

Investigative News and Editorial Commentary by Joyce Blay

In the red-hot real estate market of New Jersey’s fastest-growing municipality, Laurie Leeds stands out in a crowded field of investors.

She is not only notable for her trademark wide-brimmed hat, but also for the size of her real estate holdings, which consist of an impressive 31 Lakewood properties acquired over the years.

These days, the notoriously camera-shy Leeds is not just taking center stage in acquiring investment properties in a township that is not her home, but in protecting them from other investors developing theirs – even if that means addressing a live-streamed public meeting of the Lakewood Planning Board, as she did on Tuesday night, August 7, 2018.

Leeds did not pull any punches. She threatened to file a lawsuit the following day if members approved a residential development project calling for the installation of a water/sewer pipe through her neighboring property without her signed permission.

New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) requires that all property owners within 200 feet of a proposed major subdivision or major site plan with variances be notified in writing of the project.

Some Lakewood property owners have charged that they were not notified by certified mail as required by state law.

During the planning board hearing, Adil Homes, LLC asked for approval of an amended preliminary and final major subdivision to adjust approved lots located on Block 190 on East County Line Road.

Leeds owns property on Block 191.

She also owns property located on Block 351 in the Industrial Park’s M1 zone on James Street.

So does Lakewood Township.

Since Leeds owns most of the block, a total of 1.65 acres, she cannot sell her investment property to developers without acquiring the township’s 8,000-square-foot-undersized parcel on the same block.

Under the 2013 Revised Statutes, Title 40A – Municipalities and Counties, Section 40A:12-13.2 – Sales of real property; right of first refusal of contiguous owners, owners of private property neighboring undersized public property have the right of first refusal whenever the municipality intends to sell that property.

Members of the Lakewood Township Committee had other plans for undersized public property contiguous to hers.

Instead of offering it for sale to Leeds, the adjacent property owner, committeemen offered to exchange the undersized public parcel with Diamond Triumph Properties, LLC, the owner of a 4,100-square-foot-undersized parcel located on Block 445, Lot 6 in RM zone, based on the two parcels’ assessed values, instead of their appraised values.

Block 351, Lot 3, owned by Lakewood Township, has an assessed property value of $8,800, while Block 445, Lot 6 has an assessed value of $19,000. However, Block 445, Lot 6 is nearly inaccessible due to its’ landlocked location.

According to the Ocean County Tax Board Web site, Diamond Triumph Properties LLC is located at 22 Carasaljo Drive, the home of Yecheskel (Charlie) Schwab.

Schwab is the owner of DataMap Intelligence LLC, a property mapping service.

In a March 7, 2018 post, NJ News & Views reported a business relationship between Schwab and Committeeman Menashe Miller.

A 2013 invoice, which a reporter for NJ News & Views received under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), included a hand-written notation instructing township officials to turn over the check, totaling $110,000 and made out to DataMap Intelligence, to “Mr. Miller.”

The invoice also included the notation, printed out in capital letters above the hand-written instruction: “ENTERED BY PURCHASING DEPT. AS PER YEHUDA ABRAHAM AND MINASHE MILLER.”

Yehuda Abraham is Lakewood Township Purchasing Agent.  He received the appointment during Miller’s administration as Lakewood mayor of 2012.

NJ News & Views requested copies of the front and back of the canceled check, which was endorsed by “DataMap,” instead of Miller’s own name as an officer of the company.

Miller did not disclose the income on his 2014 Financial Disclosure, which reports all sources of income earned in excess of $2,000 during 2013.

Miller also failed to disclose his part-time salary that year as a director of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce (LCOC). Miller did not report his income from the part-time position until 2017, which reported his 2016 sources of income.

Although the Chamber’s Web site provided Miller’s biography, it did not state exactly what work the committeeman performed for the organization that benefited its’ members.

Since first being affirmed onto the township committee in January 2004, Miller has never served as the appointed liaison to either the Lakewood Industrial Commission (LIC) or the Lakewood Development Corporation (LDC), which share the same goal as the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce – to promote jobs and business in the township.

Miller did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

Miller is currently under investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, based on a complaint that the 5-term committeeman personally profited from his public office. The complaint included a link to findings reported by NJ News & Views in the March 7, 2018 post.

In 2013, California resident Kenneth Garzo informed Lakewood officials in documents NJ News & Views obtained under OPRA that he was the heir to over 200 parcels formerly owned by his late uncle, New York real estate investor Maximilian Hirshberg. Hirshberg’s late widow, Florence, inherited the properties upon her husband’s death. In 2014, the executor of her estate transferred title to the properties to Garzo through an omnibus deed posted on the Ocean County Clerk’s Web site.

Garzo included documents prepared by DataMap to prove his claim to public and private properties on which the township had foreclosed during the 1970s and 1980s. However, the DataMap documents were prepared for Garzo the same year  DataMap was under contract to the township, making the work for Garzo a conflict of interest.

In December 2016, Garzo sued Lakewood Mayor Menashe Miller, Lakewood Municipal Manager Thomas L. Henshaw, Lakewood Township and a representative of the Cedarbridge Redevelopment Corporation, which the township contracted to lease or sell space in Lakewood’s Corporate Park . Garzo claims title to several undersized parcels in the area, including the adjacent baseball stadium’s parking lot.

According to Garzo’s legal papers, the officials reportedly met with him at municipal offices in February 2016 to negotiate a global settlement of his claim to the Hirshberg properties that called for the exchange of public property for the foreclosed properties, then reneged on the deal.

If he prevails, Garzo can ask the court to have Lakewood taxpayers to reimburse his legal costs, as well as those of the township.

Garzo can also settle out of court for his original deal of public land for foreclosed property, valued at millions of taxpayer dollars.

Miller and Lakewood Township continue to do business with Schwab, to the profit of both men and the continued expense of Lakewood taxpayers.

Last month, it was Leeds whose investment took second place to Miller and Schwab’s money-making scheme.

According to Ordinance M-3, scheduled for second reading on the township committee’s July 12, 2018 meeting agenda, township Tax Assessor Edward Seeger had determined that public property located on Block 351, Lot 3 was equal in value to private property located on Block 445, Lot 6, and that the exchange would benefit Lakewood by development of private property as a public park.

Under  the 2013 Revised Statutes, Title 40A – Municipalities and Counties, Section 40A:12-16 – Exchanges of certain lands; exceptions, the municipality can exchange public property for private property. However, taxpayers must receive “full and fair value” for public property as determined by the  municipal tax assessor, pursuant to R.S. 54:4-23 for the then current tax year.

In other words, the exchange of public property for private property must be based on the appraised value of public and private land, not the assessed value.

A reporter for NJ News & Views made an OPRA request for Seeger’s recommendation to exchange public and private property for their assessed values, which he reported to be equal in value.

In response, township officials informed the reporter that the requested document did not exist.

By exchanging public land for private land based on the properties’ assessed values,  Schwab and Miller can flip their new acquisition for a profit at the appraised value.

The ordinance stated that Block 351, Lot 3 held no “intrinsic” value, even though is was located on a block owned by a single private property investor, and that the exchange would return public property to the tax rolls.

So would sale of public property to the adjacent property owner.

“It is in the best interests of the Township of Lakewood to exchange these parcels,” the ordinance concluded.

No, it was not.

Any developer that proposes a project on Block 445 must include open space or a tot lot or playground. Taxpayers should not have to subsidize a developer’s obligation to homebuyers that purchase a unit in his or her proposed development.

If a municipality seeks to build a playground or park on an undersized lot for public use, the local governing body can condemn private property for a public purpose under Title 40 – Municipalities and Counties, Section 40:61-1 General powers; acquisition of property. The local governing body does not have to exchange valuable public property not located immediately adjacent to private property for that purpose.

Instead of exchanging his undersized parcel for public property, Schwab could offer to donate it to the taxpayers of Lakewood. His generosity would benefit everybody, not just a select few.

That is a gesture that real estate investor Ovadi Malchi made several years ago with land he could not develop either. Malchi’s property was located near the Metedeconk River, a protected C-1 waterway with a 300-foot buffer.

Instead of accepting Malchi’s gift, which would have enabled the township to preserve environmentally-sensitive land,  the township committee declined it, citing its’ lack of access.

Malchi’s act of kindness not only sets an example for private citizens, but public officials as well.

Committeemen could have shown the same benevolence as Malchi by offering public property located on Block 351, Lot 3 for private sale to Leeds, the adjacent property owner, but they did not. Leeds had to assert her rights by offering a sale price far in excess of the property’s assessed value, unlike Schwab.

At the July 12, 2018 committee meeting, members of the audience and viewers watching the live stream did not see Leeds address the local governing body in opposition to the property exchange. However, committeemen discussed her offer to buy Block 351, Lot 3 during the videotaped workshop meeting that preceded the public meeting that night.

Before agreeing on a private land sale price of $25,000, one committeemen suggested a sale price of $35,000 – even though Block 351, Lot 3 is assessed at only $8,800.

A reporter for NJ News & Views attempted to ask committeemen about the land exchange during the public forum held following the ordinance’s second reading. Instead, Mayor Raymond Coles informed the reporter that the committee was “killing” the ordinance, and did not allow her to publicly discuss it.

According to Robert’s Rule of Order, in order to “kill” an ordinance, Coles was required to ask for a motion and second to approve the ordinance after second reading and a public hearing. If no member of the governing body responds, the ordinance “dies.”

That did not happen on July 12, 2018.

That does not mean Miller and Schwab do not have an alternative get-rich-quick scheme.

On the same meeting agenda, Ordinance N-2, scheduled for first reading, called for the exchange of land with Diamond Triumph Properties, LLC for the same undersized lot. However, the new ordinance proposes the exchange  because the township “believes” that it would be more advantageous for municipality to own Block 445, Lot 6 for future combination with adjacent lots owned by the township.

Lakewood Township owns Block 445, Lot 3, which is not contiguous to Lot 6. It is the location of the Lakewood Fire Tower, which provides the highest unobstructed view of the 25-square-mile municipality from it.

It is not advantageous for Lakewood taxpayers to also acquire Block 445, Lot 6. As long as Diamond Triumph owns property it cannot develop, taxpayers do not have to subsidize municipal or district services to any improvement on it, while investors in the LLC must continue to pay taxes that subsidize services to other taxpayers in Lakewood.

But that is not what Schwab or Miller plan to do with their investment.

Instead of getting an undersized lot that would have reduced the value of Leeds’ property, while increasing the value of their acquisition to her, Schwab and Miller have set their sights on public property designated for preservation under the township’s Smart Growth Plan.

Located on Block 1264, Lot 1 in the B-5 zone, the 1.16-acre site is east of Shorrock Street, next to the Costco building on the south side of Route 70.

Ordinance N-2 incorrectly reported that Block 1264, Lot 1 was located in the B-2 zone, but correctly reported that the site was undersized because the B-5 zone requires a buildable lot of two (2) acres. However, JSM at Brick Properties LLC owns 1.20 acres on Block 1252, Lot 1, and 1.97 acres on Block 1262, Lot 3. The properties are separated by paper streets the township committee could vote to vacate, giving Diamond Triumph Properties the opportunity to acquire a total of 4.33 acres – enough to qualify for a Planned Educational Campus.

Schools are a permitted use in the B-5 zone.

A Planned Educational Campus includes schools, faculty housing and student dormitories.

For Schwab and Miller, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if the deal goes through, but not for Lakewood taxpayers.

Instead of holding a public land auction, Diamond Triumph Properties LLC will pay Lakewood Township an additional $13,000 for a total acquisition price that will equal the public property’s assessed land value, rather than its’ market value.

The assessed land value of the vacant public property is $32,000, but its’ appraised value may be much greater.

A reporter for NJ News & Views made an OPRA request for the appraiser’s report of the market value of Block 445, Lot 6. The township clerk’s office responded by informing the reporter that the requested document did not exist.

According to Ordinance N-2, scheduled for first reading on the July 12, 2018 Lakewood Township Committee meeting agenda, at 1.16 acres, public property on Block 1264, Lot 1 is undersized, adjacent only to paper streets and is of no practical use to the Township.

Not according to documents Lakewood submitted last year for state Plan Endorsement.

Page 21 of the revised 2013 Lakewood Smart Growth Plan calls for preservation of the following areas:

1.)  Lands along the Kettle Creek near Route 70 and in the proposed Oak Street Core

2.)  Crystal Lake Preserve Area

3.)  Wetlands and wooded areas in the Cedarbridge Redevelopment Area

4.)  Areas within Lakewood Shenandoah Park adjoining Cedarbridge Avenue

5.)  Wetlands north of Cedarbridge Avenue in the Lakewood Industrial Park

6.)  Undeveloped areas along Shorrock Street to be combined with existing Green Acres preserved land

7.)  Lands east of the Garden State Parkway, adjoining the township boundary with Brick Township

8.)  A portion of the former Department of Public Works site along the Cabinfield Branch

The township’s Smart Growth Plan is a requirement for state Plan Endorsement.

In 2016, the state Planning Commission granted conditional Plan Endorsement to Lakewood Township, provided local government  incorporated its’ Smart Growth Plan with the township’s Master Plan and adopted ordinances that advanced it.

The township was also required to demonstrate  that it would have adequate water and waste water capacity for its’ projected growth.

As reported by NJ News & Views, the township was given an extension to meet those requirements last year.

The state extension did not help Lakewood meet its’ deadline.

Neither did a lawsuit challenging the validity of documents already filed with the state for Plan Endorsement.

Late last year, the homeowners association (HOA) of The Fairways at Lake Ridge, an adult community located on Massachusetts Avenue whose name references its’ proximity to the neighboring, award-winning Eagle Ridge Golf Course, filed suit to stop the amenity’s proposed redevelopment. The developer, GDMS LLC, reportedly paid the Kokes Organization $9.5 million for the golf course, then proposed an ambitious redevelopment plan for it consisting of 1,872 units of housing, commercial retail space, a clubhouse and five acres of Lakewood’s most precious commodity – on-site parking.

Following public protest, the DEP instructed GDMS to hold a public hearing on the proposed project. GDMS held a public forum on May 9, 2017, in the Jackson Memorial High School auditorium, the largest available area venue. A reporter for NJ News & Views attended the hearing on that date and noted that every one of the 1,200 available seats was filled, mostly with objectors to the proposed redevelopment plan.

One Fairways resident held up a sign from his seat in the audience that read, “DON’T TURN CROSS STREET INTO A LOST STREET.”

The Fairways is located at the intersection of Massachusetts with Route 70 and Cross Street. The township has designated Cross Street for dense development on its’ Smart Growth Plan.

Senator Robert Singer, who represented Lakewood as a committeeman for 30 years until 2010, and continues to represent the township in the state’s 30th Legislative District, did not attend the public forum.  Instead, Singer met with Lakewood district administrators, state monitors and former board of education attorney Michael  Inzelbuch to negotiate the terms of his rehire.

No elected members of the Lakewood Board of Education were informed of the meeting so they could attend it, according to board member Ada Gonzalez.

Several weeks after GDMS held a public forum on its’ proposed redevelopment plan for the golf course, the DEP rejected the plan.

Or so it seemed.

After initially rejecting GDMS’ application for a permit, the DEP met behind closed doors to settle the matter out of court.

In the November 2017 DEP Bulletin, the department announced a settlement with GDMS, which had submitted a modified plan for redevelopment of the golf course. Instead of 1,872 units, the developer proposed 517 townhouses, each with a basement apartment, for a total of 1,034 residential units on the former golf course.

The timing of the announcement was conspicuous, published days before the November election in which Singer was running for re-election to his state Senate seat.

Singer owns a home in Island Heights, which is not a township he represents in the 30th Legislative District. During the work week, Singer reportedly rents a home that is owned by GDMS in The Enclave, an adult community that the Kokes Organization developed in Lakewood on the other side of Massachusetts Avenue from its’ sister development, The Fairways.

Despite Singer’s absence from a public discussion of the proposed redevelopment of the golf course as a mixed-use development, he won his bid for another 6-year term in the state Senate.

Government lobbyists may not be as fortunate in 2018 as they were in 2017.

On December 17, 2018, former Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford, now a state Superior Court Judge, sitting in Toms River, is scheduled to hear the Fairways HOA lawsuit against GDMS and township officials.

According to the 31-page lawsuit, filed by land use attorney Michele R. Donato, the Fairways HOA is challenging the rezoning of the golf course for dense residential redevelopment by asking Ford to invalidate Lakewood’s Master Plan and to void the ordinances adopted by the Lakewood Township Committee to rezone the municipality under it.

The lawsuit also asks Ford to place a protective trust on the golf course until GDMS agrees to protect it as open space.

In addition, the lawsuit charges the following:

1.)  Lakewood Township ignored the MLUL’s environmental impact and open space preservation requirements;

2.)  The Lakewood Township Committee did not adopt the planning board’s recommended infrastructure improvements in adopting the planning board’s recommended zoning changes based on them;

3.)  Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles’ planning board designee, Angela Zografos née Koutsouris, an employee of Gilmore & Monahan, the law firm owned by George Gilmore, head of the Ocean County Republican Party, does not live in Lakewood; and that

4.)  Committeeman Marc (Meir) Lichtenstein, owner of MSL Property Management, works for three principles of GDMS, creating a conflict of interest from which he did not recuse as a voting member of the Lakewood Township Committee.

During Reorganization 2004, following Lichtenstein’s and Miller’s 2003 election to the Lakewood Township Committee, members voted to appoint Lichtenstein as liaison to the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment. Every year for the next for seven years, committee members re-appointed Lichtenstein to the liaison position, even though the zoning board grants exceptions to ordinances adopted by the Lakewood Township Committee, making the position a conflict of interest as well.

According to sources, during those seven years, Lichtenstein, like Miller, sold his influence to government lobbyists. In exchange for guaranteeing zoning board approval, Lichtenstein’s management company was contracted to manage applicant’s properties.

Following years of NJ News & Views reporting the liaison position as a conflict of interest, the township committee no longer appoints a liaison to the zoning board. Instead, members appointed Lichtenstein their liaison to Planning & Zoning, instead of appointing a committeeman that does not stand to personally profit from his public service.

On August 16, 2018, Miller also stands to personally profit from his public service.

Or maybe not.

His fortunes may rise or fall, depending on whether or not Lakewood can develop the municipality in accordance with a blueprint for growth that some state officials approved, and others did not.

In December 2017, Gerard (Gerry) P. Scharfenberger, Ph.D., the director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy (OPA), signed off on Lakewood’s 10-year Plan Endorsement, which he registered on the same date the new governor, Phil Murphy, was sworn into office on January 16, 2018.

One month later, Gov. Phil Murphy reportedly fired Scharfenberger, who had requested to continue serving as OPA director before his dismissal.

According to media reports, Murphy fired Scharfenberger after the OPA director did not appear at a scheduled press conference Murphy had asked him to attend. Murphy reportedly scheduled the press conference Scharfenberger did not attend in order to discuss his administration’s new environmental policy.

Scharfenberger continues to serve as a member of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and as part-time adjunct professor of anthropology at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, where www.ratemyprofessors.com reports he is a popular instructor.

Murphy’s relationship with state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney may be just as problematic as his relationship with Scharfenberger.

For the past seven months, the state Planning Commission Scharfenberger directed has not met due to lack of a quorum of appointed members.

That will not change anytime soon.

According to media reports, Sweeney wanted the job that Murphy won. Murphy is unlikely to give Sweeney the satisfaction of rejecting any appointees he may submit to the Senate in its’ advisory role.

Earlier this month, NJ News & Views submitted an OPRA request with the N.J. Governor’s Office, asking for Murphy’s list of proposed candidates for appointment to the state Planning Commission.

On August 10, 2018, the reporter received an e-mail from the records custodian with a denial of access letter attachment. The letter informed the reporter that the requested document did not exist.

The last time the state Planning Commission met was on January 10, 2018, which ironically was the commission’s Reorganization meeting. Since that time, the commission has not met to continue its’ discussion of Lakewood’s Plan Endorsement with Fairways HOA spokesman Rob Robison and Fairways attorney Michele Donato.

Robison told NJ News & Views that when the commission does meet again, he will ask commissioners to reverse Scharfenberger’s approval of Lakewood’s Plan Endorsement.

That may not be necessary.

In February, the same month Murphy fired Scharfenberger, the DEP rejected Lakewood’s water service delivery plan. As a result, the township did not meet all requirements for dense development of areas regulated by the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), which would have permitted an increase in the percentage of impervious coverage from the current 35 percent to as much as 80 percent.

According to a state official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, DEP rejection of Lakewood’s Plan Endorsement may not make a difference.

The official told NJ News & Views that in Lakewood, the threshold for CAFRA jurisdiction is much higher, requiring 75 or more units of residential or 150 or more parking spaces for any non-residential use – from which schools are exempt.

“So even without the allowable site coverage densities that the Township Smart Growth Plan sought to incorporate for CAFRA-sized projects, there is a huge potential for dense development which would not need CAFRA permits,” the official told a reporter. “As a result, there is much building in the CAFRA area of Lakewood that sails right under the CAFRA permitting requirements.”

The official shared his thoughts about Lakewood’s future development.

“I believe that the Lakewood government officials and the secular officials know that higher density development is the only way to accommodate the burgeoning population which seeks to remain in the township, but this type of development is the antithesis of what many other residents want to see.”

Ramapo Charrette Meetings and Overdevelopment, not a Problem with the “Who” but with the “Methods” Employed

Dear readers:

We are posting this from our comments section, a quasi editorial. We are well aware that by posting it, focused so closely on curbing the development and ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, it runs a fine line between a well-balanced approach and a fear of an entire culture. We note that the ultra-Orthodox are comprised of some very decent people and some far darker forces, depending upon the sect of the community. Few can differentiate so the fear is broader, perhaps, than it should be. But there are precious few within the ultra-Orthodox community willing to sit down and really and truly build healthy and stable bonds, willing to face the darkness and the fear that it perpetuates.

Everything is done under cover of darkness which breeds suspicion. In the case of Ramapo, New York, there has been a “bait and switch” pattern that has left few trusting the community at all.

We invite you to review and to view all of the videos that are linked to the comments. The issue from our perspective is not what on its face may appear to be somewhat anti-Orthodox. Rather, the issue is the change of the character of the area, something shared in large part by communities like Lakewood, NJ, Toms River, NY,  Bloominburg, NY, and others whereby the ultra-Orthodox move in, they build incessantly, they register as  home-based Yeshivas and then they pay reduced taxes. This hurts everyone else and unquestionably feeds resentment.

Most send their children to insular yeshivas where many do not learn basic subjects – core subjects like English and math; and in many instances, they do not make good neighbors.

It is a pattern we have seen repeatedly and if we are to end, both the inherent appearance of anti-Semitism and a mutual resentment, and if we are to create a neighborly and inviting place to live for everyone, we need to come to grips with the fact that the behavior of what may be a few is breeding a hatred for the many. Sadly, that hatred filters down to moderate, conservative and secular Jews alike and non-Jews alike. We also must come to an agreement regarding how much of the character of the neighborhoods are going to change and what lines need to be drawn on both sides of the debate.

Bait and switch techniques, like those used before, do nothing but create hostility, mistrust and hatred.  

PLEASE READ ON:

Can we stop the Ultra-Orthodox from taking over yet another established neighborhood?

A neighborhood that many (including many Orthodox) moved to because of its rural flavor?

Why has the town of Ramapo sold out to the religious builders? And how can we stop them?
The Town of Ramapo has hosted a number of ‘Charrette Planning Meetings’. The voice of the residents is clear:
We want to preserve our open space and our single family neighborhoods! We do not want to become another Monsey or New Square!
The next meeting will be on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 at 6 PM at the Pomona Middle school. Please attend if you can.
Watch the videos from the recent presentations by the Rampo town hired planners. They have lots in store for Northeast Ramapo!
Ramapo Charrette Meeting: Introduction 11/27/18
Ramapo Charrette Meeting: Citizens Report 11/27/18
Ramapo Charrette Meeting: Developers & Agents 11/29/18 Part 1
Ramapo Charrette Meeting: Developers & Agents 11/29/18 Part 2
Ramapo Charrette Meeting: Open House Presentation 11/29/18
New Hempstead Charrette Meeting: Community Update 12/18/18

Education and Yeshivas in New York An Institution of Depriving Children

From the Rockland Voicehttp://rocklandvoice.com/opinion/the-woman-who-was-not-educated-in-a-yeshiva/

The Woman Who Was Not Educated By A Yeshiva
Confronts The County Legislators Who Claim They Were.

Julie Globus

 By: Julie D. Globus
“To be a Jew sitting in that room was an embarrassment.”

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in the Rockland County Legislature all of the children of Rockland County were stripped of their rights to have their county legislature enforce New York’s requirement of a “substantially similar” education. Parents were denied the most fundamental of rights, to protect their children and see that they are educated; and a community was discharged of its ability to report a school, any school, that is not educating children to standards set by the State. The plundering of these rights was left in the hands of two men, each of whom based his decision on a desire for inequality over equality, for ignorance over knowledge and for insularity over integration. It was a tragedy of epic proportions to watch unfold and it will forever shape Rockland County’s weak approach to New York State’s Education Laws.

Fundamentally and legally what was being voted for or against was a memorializing resolution which is best described as a memorandum of support related to a bill drafted by New York State Assemblyman, Kenneth Zebrowski.  Zebrowski’s Albany bill, at its core provides a method of enforcement for a poorly drafted New York State law related to education. The present law requires that publicly funded private schools offer a “substantially similar” education as public schools. However, New York’s law is lacking both in the definition of “substantiality” and in its enforcement provisions to uphold that law.

A vote in favor of the memorandum of support by the members of the Multiservices Committee, chaired by Legislator Soskin, would have brought the memorandum before the full County Legislature on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 for its vote of certain approval.

While rational minds in all communities should have advocated zealous support for the memorandum and for the change in the Albany law it was designed to support, the two Legislators who shot it down and killed it in their committee, Soskin and Wieder, framed the memorandum into a “Jewish Question” rather than an education question.

Legislator Aron Wieder, in a remarkable rant quoting George Washington, spoke of his beautiful children, spoke of the salaries within the ultra-Orthodox community that are higher than in non-Orthodox communities, spoke of disingenuous depiction of welfare and other laws and then, in showmanship worthy of an Oscar, he threw a report into his trashcan that was drafted by YAFFED (Young Advocates For A Fair Education whose leader grew up a Hasid).

Wieder’s actions prove that there is a fundamental problem within the Rockland County ultra-Orthodox community related to the deprivation of a basic education in core subjects such as science and mathematics.

Legislator Soskin, the leader of the MultiServices Committee, praised me and my comments to the county legislature, which were both in Hebrew and in English. I was vigorously supporting the vote and imploring him to vote in favor of releasing the memorializing resolution from his committee so that the full membership of the county legislature could cast their votes. Soskin, in his biased ignorance, used me as the prime example of someone who is a “product of a yeshiva education.”

First and foremost, I did NOT graduate from Yeshiva – I went to a public school where I was in the racial minority but I grew up in a house where education, beyond all else, was paramount. My school education was Legislator Soskinsupplemented by Hebrew School, finance, music, multiple languages, mathematics, science, horticulture, photography, woodworking and vocabulary. Had there been more hours in the day, my parents likely would have subjected me to additional subjects. Legislator Soskin spoke of parents’ right to educate their child as they sees fit regardless of the parameters of that education, all antithetical to NYS law.

What occurred at the committee meeting spoke volumes about the exploitation of religion as a veil of secrecy and the clever use of politics to scream anti-Semitism by several legislators in the Rockland County legislature.

To be a Jew sitting in that chamber was an embarrassment. To watch the children who believed themselves to be losing out if the vote passed was a travesty insofar as it pointed to how easily children can be indoctrinated and led to follow whatever is being taught whether guided or misguided. To watch Jewish orthodox parents speak out against the bill exemplified the manipulation of the intent of the bill, couched by that community in terms of an attack against a way of life the community holds dear. To listen to the emotional stories of those who came out of a yeshiva system that robbed them of a secular education was heartbreaking.

One woman and her child got up and spoke against the memorandum claiming that she sent her children to Yeshiva and that the Yeshiva in question does a better job of educating its children than the public schools. Perhaps the one she spoke of does do a better job. I wouldn’t doubt it – there are many yeshivas as excellent as many other private religious schools and to be honest many of the  public schools are, in my view, grossly inadequate. This bill would have protected publicly educated children as well. But if her comments were of the importance of a quality education, they should have registered her as a supporter of the vote, which would not have affected her in the least. She should have been imploring support of a vote so that more of the schools sharing her value system achieve the highest standards of which she spoke.

Assemblyman Zebrowski

In the most remarkable words to be spoken by Legislator Aron Wieder in any public meeting to date, he justified his disdain for Democratic Assemblyman Zebrowski’s bill by quoting from a letter written by George Washington. His choice of historical reference was perfect when taken in a vacuum and a clever means to gaslight people into believing the Zebrowski bill was an attempt at curtailing the free practice of religion.

Legislator Wieder neglected to provide context to Washington’s words. The letter from Washington was written in response to Moses Seixas who spoke on behalf of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport in 1789, at a time when Rhode Island was needed for ratification of the Constitution. Seixas in his letter to George Washington, made reference to a long standing tradition of discrimination which prevented Jews from becoming free citizens, free to practice their religion and to worship in their synagogues.

President Washington’s reply, a poignant example of both Washington’s intellectual capacity and his diplomacy as read by Wieder is as follows:

“Happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction,
to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection
should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their
effectual support… . May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this
land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every
one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make
him afraid.”

Legislator Wieder’s beautifully rehearsed but misleading diatribe supporting his rejection of the vote on the memorializing resolution, referred to “our great Constitution” (a play on both the Constitution of the United States and the Torah) and he neglected to inform his constituency that the correspondence between Washington  and the Jewish communities was a form of diplomacy to gain Rhode Island’s support for the ratification of “our great Constitution”. The correspondence between the Jewish community and Washington also formed the basis for the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, which critically included the right to redress.

Remarkably, the First Amendment reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

For Wieder, sitting in safety under the “vine and fig tree” is an imperative, as it should be. The right to redress, however, is to be ignored.

Sadly the words of Legislator Soskin and Legislator Wieder did nothing if not prove that the ultra-Orthodox community on whose behalf they spoke does not want oversight. They do not want transparency. They do not want their schools to be required to teach core subjects and to enforce a policy that requires it, because it will also alter the way in which the children within that community are indoctrinated, shielded from exposure to the outside world and introduced to a path to a future that might one day mean leaving that community. They would prefer to hold children and their families hostage.

For Mr. Wieder it boiled down to religious freedom free of redress. For Legislator Soskin it was a matter of condensing the discussion into the freedom of a parent to choose a specific education without fear of community intervention if that education is inadequate.

Well, Legislator Soskin, I ask you this: “When does the community have the right to intervene on behalf of its children? If it takes a village to raise a child, is it not then the community’s responsibility if that child is deprived, neglected, harmed, destroyed or otherwise disenfranchised?”

In a very slippery slope, Legislators Wieder and Soskin have all but guaranteed that the future of the private school educated children of Rockland County, Jewish or otherwise, is uncertain, fraught with potential hardships, poverty, social and educational neglect.

As an unintended consequence they have all but paved the way for publicly educated children to be similarly disenfranchised, destroying not only the future of those children being taught in private inadequate settings, Jewish or otherwise but also future public education within this great State of New York.

[Editor’s Note:  Legislator Soskin seems to have been unaware of Ms. Globus’ educational credits.  In 1991 she graduated with honors from Skidmore College with a BA in Government and Philosophy which she completed in 3 years. Following graduation, Julie accepted a grant to attend The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus in Israel for one year. While she did not speak the language when she left for Israel, at the end of the year Julie was offered a scholarship towards completion of her MA, which in 1995 she earned with honors in Political Theory, studying mainly in Hebrew. Julie returned to the US to earn her law degree from Rutgers Law School.

She has written numerous articles about local affairs in Rockland Voice and has written a previous opinion piece addressed to Legislator Wieder entitled: An Open Letter To Legislator Wieder – Anti-Semitism, A Label Used As A Shield Against Scrutiny]