Gordon Wren, Jr., former longtime director of Rockland County’s Fire & Emergency Service, and leader of an effort to crackdown on illegally subdivided homes in the county, addressed CUPON (Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods) on June 20 and gave a gut-wrenching presentation at the June Rockland Business Association luncheon held at Nyack Seaport
Wren warned that many neighborhoods in the Town of Ramapo are still living outside the law and often relying on public assistance to survive. “[There are] aggressive builders and many slum landlords turning our suburban communities into urban ones,” Wren said.
“Under former County Executive Scott Vanderhoef, we put together an Illegal Housing Task Force,” continued Wren. “Our motto is, ‘If you see something, say something.’ While many of Rockland’s towns and villages have kept their communities meticulous, the Town of Ramapo is not one of them.”
Illegal investors are making a lot of money, said Wren. “They average five to one room. Where is the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance? Not interested! Ramapo lawbreaking is ignored, and it is spreading.”
Much to the chagrin of many who work and live in Rockland, state agencies are not cooperative, he said. “When you ask for help, you are told it has to come from the ‘Second Floor’’—that’s Cuomo’s office. The New York State monitors have been totally ineffective.”
Communities reliant on public assistance can raise the taxes of an entire county, County Executive Ed Day noted to RBA members. “Fifty five percent of the county levy goes to Medicaid. We are the only state in the United States [where county taxpayers] bear the cost of Medicaid,” Day said.
When it came to new Senator James Skoufis (D), Wren had nothing but rave reviews. “He hit the ground running. He recently had a hearing in Newburgh calling on the Governor and Department of State for lack of enforcement of state law. (Skoufis’s district includes North Rockland.) James is looking at what is happening in Rockland County as a template for the rest of the state.”
Wren noted that that neighborhoods in Ramapo have become increasingly exclusive to particular demographic groups, sometimes making it difficult for authorities to get a foothold in regulating those areas.
A proposed development, Patrick Farm in Pomona, has been fighting in court to get permission to build 474 units of housing on wetlands. To date the development, which would target buyers from the growing Orthodox Jewish community, has not received approval. The Pomona community has formed ROSA (www.ROSA4Rockland.org), a group of conscientious homeowners who want to keep the lifestyle they have enjoyed for decades and fears the incursion of high density housing.
“It has been a battle, but we continue the fight,” said Lena Bodin, an RBA member who lives near the property.
A visit to the Town of Monroe in Orange County can give “ordinary” citizens a view of what can happen when landowners negotiated a deal with a private group calling itself United Monroe, which led to the creation of the Nation’s first unofficially official “Hasidic town,” which is called Palm Tree. With thousands of multiple dwelling units being built, Monroe has been slowly falling into the swamp, despite best efforts by some to halt the overdevelopment.
Thirty years ago, many non-Haredi shoppers visited Kiryas Joel, which was originally going to be incorporated into Palm Tree but now remains a village in the new town. Today, if you are non-Hasidic, you will be followed by ‘security’ to make sure you get out of the neighborhood as quickly as possible. The Village of New Square in Rockland County also has similar security screening traffic, as well.
“You can win, but you have to fight for it,” said Wren. “The outmigration of New Yorkers looking to avoid living in and around those communities need to stand together.”
Interested in starting CUPON for your own town or village?