BY MORT BECKER
Close to 200 Airmont residents, including prominent rabbis and their congregants, local attorneys and professionals attended Monday night’s Airmont Board of Trustees meeting. There were two controversial items on the evening’s agenda, a “no knock” law and a year round “no overnight parking” regulation.
It was Mayor Phil Gigante’s proposed no overnight parking law that upset many community members. People from the area’s religious residences were particularly infuriated, claiming that this law is designed deliberately make life uncomfortable for them. Many have guests for the Sabbath and there are not enough parking spaces in their driveways or at their synagogues to accommodate them. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Fridayevening prohibiting travel for 26 hours, until Saturday night.
Board member Ralph Bracco attempted to explain to the audience that it was going to pass no matter what and if he was mayor things would be different. Some in the audience responded that they elected the current mayor and the board and they should remember that these officials were there to serve them.
As the temperature in the room rose, and the annoyance of the crowd became even more palpable, people in the audience mentioned the meeting room had not been designed to hold such a large group. The board suggested that since the overflow crowd surpassed the maximum, they would vote on a resolution to adjourn the meeting until July 5 when they would use the larger meeting room at the Crown Plaza that can seat up to 300 people.
Members of the audience yelled out that they would at least like the answer to their question before the meeting was adjourned. Many also felt that a matter of this importance to so many people should be postponed until September, as countless families will be away on vacation during the summer and especially for the week of the Fourth of July. Board member Dennis Cohen also mentioned that he too would probably not be able to be present on July 5.
At this point, many suggestions were being shouted out. Among those suggestions was to give more access for emergency vehicles, legislation should be passed to permit overnight parking on one side of the street. Alternate side of the street parking was suggested or exceptions for religious and secular holidays.
In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Mayor Gigante stated a resident had requested this new law and his only motive for passing it is the safety of Airmont’s citizens. Many other areas have similar legislation, Gigante said, pointing to Suffern and Pomona. Gigante mentioned that although they may not enforce the law, it should be on the books in case it’s necessary to enforce it. He expressed dismay that no supporters of the legislation were in attendance at either of the public hearings.
County Legislator Charles Falciglia, a Suffern resident representing Airmont and Suffern, was present planning to speak about sewer district reforms in Rockland and was caught in the unexpected maelstrom. As members of the crowd left, some mentioned their general consensus is to obtain the 500 signatures necessary to force a referendum if the legislation moves forward.
The village’s religious community and the village administration are not unused to being at odds. In 1992 the federal government successfully filed suit against the newly formed Airmont, with charges that the municipality of 8,000 residents violated the Fair Housing Act by attempting to exclude Orthodox Jews with its freshly enacted restrictive zoning laws. It was the first time the federal government sued a municipality to protect housing rights for a religious, rather than a racial, minority.