An in-person meeting that attracted an overflow crowd last month and had been rescheduled for Monday, October 4 went on as planned– only this time, the in-person meeting turned into an online Zoom conference.
Hundreds of residents who called in got to look at the glum faces—and not much else—of the mayor and trustees. Deputy Mayor Brian Downey, recently arraigned on 11 felony counts for having illegal weapons in his home and faked government IDs, was asked to submit his resignation as Deputy Mayor—but not to step down from the Board of Trustees.
The Village of Airmont had several public hearings scheduled for September 20 and planned to hold the meeting in the Town Ramapo meeting hall. That meeting was pushed back because of “technical difficulties,” but those who showed up were to obtain copies of the proposed law changes that were on hand for attendees. Many on the Zoom call Monday evening did not have ready access to the information. Many on the call were confused by the language and the purpose of the numerous changes being considered.
Revisions to local law include an end to the ban on overnight parking on village streets, which some orthodox religious residents claimed was enacted by the former administration to discriminate against them; a noise ordinance that further restricts the use of lawn mowers and other outdoor power equipment on weekends and legal holidays–including noise that disturbs an adjoining property owner; extending the terms for mayor and trustees; changes to the way candidates report political donations; enacting a tree ordinance; and allowing garages to be used for any purpose.
Over 250 people were on the Zoom meeting; others did not have access to the copies of the proposed changes, which had been posted on the village website. “Some residents don’t have computers,” one Zoomer told the village board. Dissension arose almost immediately when Mayor Nathan Bubel opened the first public hearing to repeal the ban on overnight parking.
One Ackerman Avenue homeowner asked if it would mean that people could park on both sides of Airmont’s many narrow and windy roads and questioned why parking would be allowed overnight on the street but a “no parking” rule would be in effect in front of the many synagogues in the community, while another asked why synagogues aren’t required to have a parking lot. The Tallman Fire Department strongly objected to the change in parking laws for safety reasons, commented one resident, who asked if the Board had consulted the area’s first responders. After listening to nearly an hour of discussion, the Mayor and Trustees–with the exception of Trustee Migdalia Pesante, who remained muted throughout most of the meeting except to cast her “No” vote– voted aye for the change in the law. While the ban was repelled, the existing parking restrictions for winter months will remain in place, and residents will still be prohibited from parking from midnight to 6:00 AM from November 1 to April 1. One Zoom caller reported that she received a text from Pesante during the public hearing saying she had been silenced by the board—and unmuted only to cast her vote.
The next public hearing concerned the use of garages. Resident Yehuda Zoger, told other Zoom callers that “90 percent don’t use their garage to park, they use it for junk. Most people park in the driveway. As residents who pay thousands of dollars in taxes, let them keep their houses as they see fit. The only reason Airmont was founded was to keep the religious community out.” Residents Linda Engler and Barry Rosenbloom both rebutted his claim, saying, “Anyone has a right to do what they want as long as they fall within code guidelines” and “turning a garage into living space doesn’t mean they can park in the street.”
The noise ordinance garnered similar negative reactions from residents, noting the plethora of school buses and delivery trucks that clog Airmont roads on Sundays constitutes a disturbance, too–or if outdoor parties or family gatherings could effectively be shut down for being “too noisy.” Another asked how the board could restrict homeowners’ ability to maintain personal property; Rosenbloom asked if he should have complained when his neighbor put up and took down his Sukkot hut with power tools. The suggestion that a decibel level be part of the noise ordinance was ignored. After deliberation the board approved a compromised version of their original amendment to the existing noise ordnance ; the original propsal, which would have extended Airmont’s quiet hours for two hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings was cut in half, while snowblowers and snowplows, which were slated to be included in the new ordinance, will now be permitted at any hour. Homeowners can also now mow their lawns anytime after 9:00 AM. Mayor Bubel clarified that emergency generators would be considered a reasonable sound and are exempt from any noise restrictions.
Tree maintenance also caused more strife, with Hillside Avenue resident Jeff Phillips asking the Board members where they were when ten acres of trees were cut down behind his home. “Six days a week, except for Shabbos, heavy equipment was moving the earth—where were you guys then? My wife and daughters could not use our pool the entire summer because there were men working right behind my house. Where were you for MY family?” The new local law allows for trees beyond the 15-foot border of the road can be removed by a homeowner after consultation with the expert of their choice.
One by one, each public hearing was closed and received four “aye” votes from the Board and Pesante as the lone dissenter. One Hasidic resident told Zoom attendees, ‘For the haters, close your eyes and imagine (former Mayor) Gigante put through the same law.”
For longtime residents, changes to local law that accommodates a single religious group while ignoring the rights all others may soon find the Village of Airmont fighting a new slew of legal challenges. Some are calling for the dissolution of the Village —created in 1991—saying the cost maintaining its village hall, its elected officials’ salaries and benefits and the growing cost of services are too onerous to ordinary taxpayers to shoulder.