BY KATHY KAHN
Persistent realtors intent on buying into Stony Point have made residents nervous.
In response to the many complaints Supervisor Jim Monaghan and the Town Board have received, the board set a public hearing to amend its code to “Prohibit Improper Real Estate Solicitations in the Town of Stony Point.” The town will hear from the public about a “no knock” law at the hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, 7 p.m. at the RHO Building.
As reported in the February 9, 2017 edition of the Rockland County Times, Realty Teams Corp. of Pomona has been marketing itself to homeowners in the town, causing many residents consternation. Realty Teams realtor Naomi Streicher has been accused of methods similar to “blockbusting” in other Rockland County towns and has been subject of attention from major network media. Many Stony Point residents told town board members that Realty Teams solicitations made them uncomfortable.
Supervisor Monaghan said, “It has recently come to my attention that town residents have been the subject of inappropriate solicitations at their homes by individuals seeking to induce a sale of the home, in some cases, presenting false information to homeowners. The problem is not unique to the Town of Stony Point and has been occurring in other areas of New York State and beyond. In order to address the problem, I’m introducing an amendment to Chapter 159 of the Town Code (Peddling and Soliciting) to address and prohibit this type of conduct.”
Monaghan directed the town’s attorney to draft the amendment and a draft of the local law will be posted on the town’s website (www.townofstonypoint.org) when it is received by legal counsel.
Not everyone has a problem with Realty Teams. Many have said the company is merely practicing capitalism the American way. While the company may be aggressive, its defenders say it’s wrong to say they intimidate or harass residents, which is what “blockbusting” entails. On the web chat room Clarkstown What They Don’t Want You to Know, however, the company was accused by a Pomona official of improper solicitation in that village.
The Town of Haverstraw will hold their own meeting to address the changing realities in North Rockland next Monday, March 13, 8 p.m. at Haverstraw Town Hall. This follows a lively gathering at Town Hall on Monday, February 27 where many town residents expressed concern over the use of area homes as places of worship.
Supervisor Howard Phillips sent a letter to the Rockland County Times on Friday, which stated, “The zoning proposal being considered by the Haverstraw Town Board…seeks to address safety issues caused by conversion of structures, not designed for such assemblies. Currently there is no zoning regulation addressing the situation where someone converts portions of a home to accommodate assembly of groups of people for religious observance.”
Phillips said his concern is that single family homes used for large numbers of worshippers could create fire hazards, dangerous traffic conditions and other safety issues. He reminded the public, a federal statute known as RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act), prevents a municipality from curtailing religious activities, except in limited circumstances. Other Rockland municipalities who have taken actions perceived as limiting religious activities of residents have lost in court. He said, “Communities that have ignored RLUIPA have paid multi-million dollar judgments and settlements to religious groups…”
Phillips believes a good plan can “create a balance” respecting “federal statute and the rights of all people to observe their religion,” while also protecting the safety of the general public.
“Rather than putting our collective heads in the sand and ignoring what is happening around us, the proposed regulations seek to ensure that locations used as gatherings for worship are not overcrowded, have proper fire safety procedures and equipment and do not cause unsafe congestion on narrow residential streets that also lead to delays for emergency services. Those who suggest we do nothing are ignoring that without these regulations the uses will occur in any event. Yet, without regulation the result will have the potential for causing dangerous conditions that will likely result in injury or even loss of life to those participating, as well as neighbors of those properties and the first responders who have to enter such structures,” Phillips concluded.
In addition to the matter of religious land use in residential neighborhoods, several areas in the Town of Haverstraw are seeing rapid demographic changes and heavy activity in the real estate market. Following the publication of the February 9 Rockland County Times article about Realty Team, three residents in Garnerville contacted the newspaper, stating Realty Teams was buying and selling homes like hot cakes in their neighborhood. A Pomona resident sent a letter to the editor published on Saturday, March 4 detailing non-stop solicitation in her Dunnigan Drive neighborhood.
No public statements have been made regarding whether the Town of Haverstraw is considering a “no knock” law. Haverstraw residents who wish to express any opinions about what is going on in their neighborhood can visit Town Hall Monday, March 13 at 8 p.m.
Dylan Skriloff contributed to this report
CORRECTION- The headline of the article published on the top of the front page of the March 2 print edition of the Rockland County Times was not completely accurate. The headline implied that a zone change had been requested to allow religious use of residential property. As Phillips explained in this letter, religious use of residential property is already protected under RLUIPA and the zoning issues in question are intended to mitigate the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.