COMMUNITY VIEW: Preserving Orangetown

BY THOM KLEINER
Candidate, Orangetown supervisor

Over the past several months I have met hundreds of Orangetown residents at their doors as I have campaigned for Supervisor.

Everyone wants an affordable town, safe neighborhoods and clean air. But one issue dominates all others, regardless of age, party, or ideology: the fervent desire to preserve the character and integrity of Orangetown’s hamlets and villages. We are right to be concerned about the real threats we face, but we need not be fearful. We, as a united community, can preserve our town if we speak with one voice and work collaboratively to seek solutions.

We must first acknowledge the problem:  There is an unsustainable demographic explosion happening in Ramapo:  if current demographic trends continue, just one part of that town will go from about 15,000 people today to near 100,000 by 2050. Other areas near there will experience similar unsustainable growth. Orangetown residents are rightfully concerned that that kind of growth will have spillover effects here.

A lax approach to enforcing local laws, and corrupt officials have facilitated much of this growth, and federal and state officials have shown little inclination to enact change. (I am quite aware of the political pressures that discourage politicians from advocating that kind of change: I was one of only a handful of elected officials to oppose the new “Chicken Plant” proposed for New Square when I ran for Rockland County Executive in 2009.  My opponent C. Scott Vanderhoef received the “bloc vote” in that election).

Despite the obstacles, federal and state reforms must be fought for. New legislation could discourage skirting of the rules, crack down on those who cheat the system and could more narrowly define where religious uses are permitted.  But we can also do a lot right here in Orangetown. There are no silver bullets – but there are solutions. Over the past several weeks, I have had conversations with elected leaders throughout the metropolitan region who have confronted these issues. Each had concrete suggestions, some of which are particularly applicable to Orangetown.

First, and most obviously, we must vigorously enforce our current zoning and planning laws and regulations.  But that’s not enough. If elected, I intend to institute a complete review of our zoning codes to give us the strongest, most comprehensive municipal code in the county.  The few remaining large tract properties – like the Kaufmann Camp Grounds, the former Pfizer site and the surplus land at RPC – must have airtight protection to ensure that any potential change in use is consistent with our Comprehensive Plan and the RPC Plan – both enacted when I was in office – and supported by community consensus.

In addition, I’ll institute a new process to ensure that we review our Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations on a regular basis. One of the primary goals would be to manage our natural resources and enhance our environmental quality. This, fortunately, is fully within our control.

As a new building department director is about to be named, we must take the opportunity to revamp that department. That means bringing it into the 21st century with the latest interactive tools, empowering department employees and making it more responsive to the needs of our residents and businesses.

We also need a 24 hour Code Enforcement hotline to allow residents to get an immediate response to potential violations in their neighborhoods.

While my opponent and I share the same overriding goal of protecting our community, some of his methods are not advisable: “Instilling military discipline” in the town; requiring police officers to report directly to him about code enforcement violations and banning overnight parking on every residential street in Orangetown year round. We must work collaboratively with our town employees and respect the chain of command in the police department.  Banning overnight parking year-round would have limited benefits while unnecessarily burdening our residents.

Ultimately, this should not be a partisan debate but a question of what works best. Attempts to divide us will undermine our efforts to achieve the result that we all seek: the protection of the character and integrity of our hamlets and villages. That will be my first responsibility as Supervisor and I am committed to achieving it.

The writer, a candidate for town supervisor, was supervisor 1996-2009