Vote on incorporation sought as early as Fall 2016
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
As first reported in this newspaper last month, a series of meetings, some public but most private, have been held throughout Pearl River over the past two months, and organizers say the mood of residents appears to strongly favor turning hamlet into a village, which would assume several governmental authorities away from the Town of Orangetown.
Whether organizers can gain the thousands of signatures and fulfill all regulatory hurdles by the fall remains to be seen. The leaders of the move to form a new village claim that they and other residents have been galvanized by four specific incidents over the past year, which they viewed as a siege from new developments and an unresponsive town government, which controls planning and zoning, as well as public services, for the town’s 49,000 residents.
Orangetown already has four incorporated villages, along the Hudson River shoreline, including Nyack, South Nyack, Grand View and Piermont. Each has its own mayor and board of trustees and each handles planning and zoning issues for their own village. Piermont, South Nyack, and Grandview have their own police departments, while Nyack uses Orangetown Police. The villages remain a part of Orangetown and residents pay both town and village property taxes and can vote in all town elections as well as their own village elections. Because of the cost of providing an extra level of government, residents of villages generally pay somewhat more in property taxes than people in unincorporated hamlets such as Pearl River, Orangeburg, and Blauvelt.
In the case of Pearl River, village supporters contend that total real property taxes should increase only about one dollar per day, or about $365 annually, over what they currently pay to Orangetown each January. School taxes, paid separately each September to the Pearl River, South Orangetown and Nyack School Districts, would be unaffected, the organizers say.
Residents have tried to incorporate Pearl River into a village six times over the past century, but each of them failed for a variety of reasons.
The first attempt was in 1927-29, when the issue actually came to a public referendum, and incorporation lost by only two or three votes. Similar attempts were made in 1935, 1948, 1950, 1959 and 1971 but strong opposition defeated each of them before they ever reached the referendum stage. Some of those attempts were to create a separate village in Pearl River, while remaining part of Orangetown, while others sought to secede completely from Orangetown and create a sixth township in Rockland County called the Town of Pearl River.
Creating a township in New York State is an extremely difficult procedure, and has not been successful in over a century. Creating a village within a township is much easier and has been accomplished dozens of times in the past few years alone.
Locally, disgruntled residents in hamlets in the Town of Ramapo successfully created several new villages 20 to 30 years ago, in each case the impetus being the fear that Ramapo was not enforcing its zoning and planning ordinances to protect those communities from an onslaught of development.
Fear that the same situation could occur in Orangetown, appears to be spearheading the move to incorporate Pearl River today, where residents say they are terrified their suburban way of life is about to be destroyed by development and trust in town officials has been shaken.
Specifically, the residents cite four incidents that led them to decide to incorporate. In each case developers sought to create large commercial projects in Pearl River and in each case some residents strongly opposed the projects.
The four projects commonly cited by proponents of village hood include:
Ø The threat of poisonous BTX emissions into the air, ground and water by the Anellotech Corporation, purchaser of one of the buildings at the former Lederle Laboratories complex on Middletown Road in Pearl River. While residents fought a long battle against this proposal, the Planning Board approved the project. Anellotech subsequently decided not to locate their facility in Pearl River, choosing a Texas location instead.
Ø Hillside, a commercial warehouse and storage facility planned for a narrow wooded lot along Route 304 in downtown Pearl River. Also bordering the Muddy Brook and Railroad Avenue, the project has been controversial since it was first proposed years ago. Opponents formed a massive campaign to thwart the project, through Residents United to Save Hillside (RUSH), but after years of delay, and lawsuits, the Planning Board voted to approve the project earlier this year.
Ø The Club, a senior housing development by a New Jersey firm on South Blue Hill Road, bordering the Lake Tappan reservoir. Now nearing completion and its grand opening, the project has angered some residents who claim it has forever scarred the wooded landscape of the area and replaced it with “huge wooden boxes,” although unlike Hillside and Anellotech, no organized group of residents ever formed to oppose this project. The zone change that allowed senior housing to be built on this site was approved years ago by a prior town board.
Ø An onslaught of door-to-door solicitations allegedly by Hasidic Jews from neighboring Ramapo, offering to buy any and all homes in Pearl River they can acquire for quick cash. The rash of doorknockers appears to have been concentrated in the “dead presidents” section of western Pearl River, between West Washington Avenue, Crooked Hill Road and Pascack Road, and bordering the Village of Chestnut ridge in Ramapo. Not surprisingly, all five organizers of the move to incorporate Pearl River live in that area, on Fillmore, VanBuren, Harding and Buchanan Streets.
The organizers, Keith Kennedy, Michael Kelley, Vincent King, Peter Hughes and James Kelly, have held a series of preliminary meetings and conducted exhaustive research on how to create a village and its potential benefits, and have issued a 30-page report (available on-line at villageofpearlriver.org) supporting the formation of a Village of Pearl River. Their research showed Pearl River has 15,876 residents, about a third the population of the entire town of Orangetown. It is the second largest hamlet in the entire State of New York, with neighboring New City in Clarkstown being the largest.
Creation of municipalities in New York is governed by state law, which requires a specific boundary for a new town, village or city. A village is the easiest and cheapest to create, and backers have chosen the existing Pearl River Fire District as the landmass to be incorporated into the new village. The village would be essentially a triangle with the two shorter legs being the boundaries with Montvale, N.J. and Clarkstown, and the longest leg being the Hackensack River to the east. A slight jog would occur east of the river, to Hunt Road, as far south as the old Pearl River sewage treatment plant, including the Pearl River Little League, two or three private houses and a commercial office building.
Organizers say if a referendum to create a village is approved by residents they would next elect a village board consisting of a mayor and four council members. That board would run the new village and make all laws and appointments of personnel, including a village clerk, tax receiver, justice of the peace, village manager, building inspector and others. Under their proposal, the village would not have its own police department, but would instead contract with Orangetown to provide this service, as they already do with Nyack. Similar services covering highway repair and maintenance, parks and recreation, sanitary sewers and others could be offered by the village, but would most likely be contracted from Orangetown as well, both to save money and because Pearl River residents view such existing services favorably and have no desire to change them.
The one area that would be changed dramatically under the proposal is building, planning and zoning. All three services are currently provided to all unincorporated areas by the town. Since they are the bone of contention that has led to the separation movement, however, supports feel the village would most likely create its own zoning ordinance and hire its own planners, as well as creating whatever land-use boards it desires such as a Planning Board and a Zoning Board of Appeals, who by law would all have to be Pearl River residents.
Backers say the new village should cost property owners an additional dollar per day, or approximately $350 a year, over and above what they already pay to Orangetown, and will continue to pay at that same level.
Critics note that the proposal does not appear to include any costs for highway, sewer and parks and recreation, apparently under the assumption that Orangetown will continue to provide these services for free, as it does now. The critics not that where these services are provided to other village along the Hudson River, Orangetown charges those villages to provide them, and would likely do the same for Pearl River, thus potentially raising the estimated cost considerably.
Critics also point out that the Pearl River Fire Department, an independent, voluntary, not-for-profit organization, would cease to exist under village status. It would become a branch of village government, with the village board governing its finances and actions, rather than the current voluntary board of fire commissioners. For the time being, the organizing committee is continuing its investigation into the costs and complexities of creating the proposed new Village of Pearl River.
Once the boundaries have been finally established, petitions must be circulated throughout the hamlet requesting a public vote. If a sufficient number of residents sign the petitions, and they are approved by the state as legally sufficient, a referendum would be scheduled in which all registered voters within the boundaries of the proposed village would vote “yes” or “no.” If the vote is affirmative the village could be created, and a village hall would have to be located, either through purchase or rent. That expense is also not included in current cost calculations.
Interest remains high in the community. A meeting in the Central Avenue Park drew about 75, and a follow-up meeting is now being planned for the Elks Club once again. Information about the meetings is posted on the group’s same website.