Officials tell residents they should gather evidence of aggressive behavior
BY KATHY KAHN
An overflow crowd had Haverstraw’s town hall bursting at the seams on Tuesday evening, March 13. Over 200 homeowners came to voice their concerns about the proliferation of unwanted solicitations in their mail and by phone, as well as Realtors knocking at their doors telling them to sell before their homes lose value.
Dozens approached the microphone to ask what the town is going to do about “blockbusting,” singling out one persistent solicitor, Realty Teams of Pomona. Many are concerned the Ultra-Orthodox who are using their homes for religious gatherings may start asking for a tax break and become “houses of worship” rather than homes to live in.
Haverstraw already has a “no solicitation” law on its books, and Supervisor Howard Phillips held up a placard stating just that, encouraging homeowners to sign up and place the notice on their doors.
To get the NYS Dept. of State to pay attention to Haverstraw’s growing problem, Phillips told residents to start keeping a record of the the realtors who are persistently knocking at their doors and to keep any letters or flyers they receive. “By doing this, you are helping us gather the concrete evidence we need to show the Dept. of State our community is being harassed. You just can’t say it’s happening and not be able to provide proof,” said Phillips. “If you want something meaningful done, this is what needs to happen.”
Regarding some properties owned by LLCs, Garnerville resident Martin Lyons said, “We don’t know who these people are or what they intend to do with the property. Everyone’s really concerned about what’s happening here—we see what’s happened in Ramapo—will we be next?”
One speaker said her son and his family just moved to Garnerville from Monsey. They “like the suburban atmosphere and do not want to live in Ramapo.” This exchange prompted an argument between several people sitting in the audience. The police escorted a few men from Town Hall and restored order.
Federal law permits people to gather in their homes for religious worship. When the number of people attending reaches more than 27 people, it can become hazardous, particularly if a fire breaks out.
Many of the town’s new Ultra-Orthodox residents bought homes in close proximity to each other so they can walk and have a prayer meeting three times a day, as required by their faith and because they are not allowed to drive on their Sabbath (Saturday). Since the maximum allowable for a prayer meeting inside a dwelling is 27 people (not including children), “If anyone sees something amiss or there is excessive noise and overflow cars parking on the street, call the police, just as you would do for any complaint,” said Phillips.
Phillips also told homeowners there is no automatic tax exemption when people use their homes for a religious gathering. “We are focusing on defining what you can and cannot do. We are not trying to block services—a ‘reasonable amount of people’ is based on safety and fire codes.”
Phillips also cautioned homeowners that under federal law, gathering in a home to worship the deity of one’s choice is a right, and federal laws supersede state and local law. But breaking the law is another matter. The “gathering place” must not be larger than 20 percent of the homes usable square footage—that includes finished basements and garages that have been turned into living areas. If a resident enlarges his driveway, he must have a permit from the building inspector to ensure zero water runoff will occur.
“Thank you for helping us,” said Susan Bulgaris, who lives in West Haverstraw. “I am concerned about the value of the home I own. This resolution lays out the groundwork to get permits and set fees. I’m glad to know there is no waiver of taxes for people who hold religious gatherings.”
Colin Dunner, a new Garnerville resident and a first responder in Ramapo said, “I appreciate the legitimate concerns of the people. As a religious Jew, I pray three times a day. My family moved to Garnerville because we did not like the community we were in. We did not move here to change this community. We moved here to become part of it. We are not looking to turn Garnerville into another Ramapo.”
The public hearing on amending Haverstraw’s zoning ordinance, which also includes a resolution to request a public hearing and investigation by the NYS Dept. of State in order to adopt a non-solicitation order and to consider amending the town code entitled “Peddling and Soliciting” will remain open until the Town Board convenes on March 27 at 8 p.m.
CORRECTION– This article originally stated that the men escorted from Town Hall were from Monsey. The newspaper retracts this assertion.
Haverstraw resolution requesting investigation by NY State:
Draft of new gathering place law:
Town of Haverstraw Statement to Residents Regarding Unwanted Real Estate Solicitation: The Town has been contacted by a number of residents, who have no intention of selling their homes, complaining about frequent, unsolicited communication from certain real estate brokers wishing to list those homes for sale. Therefore, the Town of Haverstraw is gathering complaints from residents of unwanted solicitations by real estate brokers. These complaints will be turned over to the New York State Department of State, Division of Real Estate Licensing Services. If you have received such an unwanted solicitation and would like to have it turned over to the Department of State, please send a letter or e-mail to Alex Guarino, Confidential Assistant to the Supervisor, at 1 Rosman Road, Garnerville, New York 10923 or to his e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org. You will need to supply your name and address and include a copy of any written solicitation that you have received, and the dates and number of occasions in which you have received the solicitation. If you have received phone calls or a visit to your home, please set forth to the best of your memory, the dates and times of the phone calls or visits, if you know who the party was that contacted you and the statements that were made to you over the phone or in person. This information will then be sent to the Department of State.