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A DEIS Hearing Will Be Held May 26; Public Comments Period Ends June 21
By Tina Traster
The Town of Ramapo will be accepting public comment on the proposed new World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses Audio/Video Production Center now that the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) is complete. There is a DEIS hearing on May 26 and public comments will be accepted until June 21.
The 1.7 million square-foot project, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, is slated for 155 Sterling Mine Road in largely Sloatsburg and partly in Tuxedo in Orange County. Of the 249 acres, 242 are located in Ramapo; the balance is in Tuxedo. The Tuxedo portion of land will be used for secondary driveway access.
The religious order, known as the Worldwide Order of Special Full Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is hoping to build an A/V production center with audio and video production studios and facilities to support operations of the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The facilities include offices, maintenance and set production workshops, and a central chilled/hot water plant with geothermal heat recovery system. Accommodations for resident staff include 645 residential units (545 one-bedroom and 100 studio units), dining/assembly spaces, recreation/wellness/fitness facilities, and a clinic.
The project also includes a Visitors Center, which would welcome the public to the campus and offer Bible-related exhibits as well as exhibits on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The proposal would rezone the portion of the project site within the Town of Ramapo to a new MU-3 Mixed-Use Zoning District to permit the applicant to develop an integrated residential and commercial campus.
The Ramapo portion of the project site was previously subdivided into 293 lots for the “Sterling Mine Road Active Adult Community,” which was commonly known as the “Lorterdan Project.” No physical improvements were made to the property following the subdivision approval.
However, the proposal requires an amendment to Ramapo’s 2004 Comprehensive Plan to remove references to the former Lorterdan development because it is not consistent with the previous Lorterdan plan and the zoning recommendations that would have implemented that development.
The religious order purchased the land in 2009 for $11.5 million.
The project site is heavily forested with native tree growth and large granite bedrock outcroppings and wetlands, according to DEIS. Of the 249-acre site, approximately 9.3 acres (3.7 percent) are wetlands and approximately 12 acres (4.8 percent) are bedrock outcroppings.
The site is contiguous or nearly contiguous with thousands of acres of additional woodland to the north, south, and west, including state lands and other protected areas. It supports forest-interior wildlife species. There are also vernal pools, an ephemeral stream, a small red maple swamp and a small portion of a NYSDEC-mapped freshwater wetland on the site that provides aquatic habitat for amphibians and reptiles. Federally or state-listed species and significant natural communities that are potentially impacted include: Indiana bat (U.S. and NYS endangered), northern long-eared bat (U.S. and NYS threatened), Jefferson salamander (NYS special concern), marbled salamander (NYS special concern), spotted turtle (NYS special concern), eastern box turtle (NYS special concern), timber rattlesnake (NYS threatened), whip-poor-will (NYS special concern), and Appalachian oak-hickory forest.
The applicant will have to demonstrate efforts to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts, including proposing alternatives to its current plans.
Measures being taken on this site will result in a highly efficient geothermal plant saving $740,000 annual in utility costs when compared to a conventional oil-fired boiler/chiller system, according to Keith Cady, the project’s architect.
“Community members will be pleased to note that the Witnesses’ plans exceed some of the most ambitious goals of New York State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy generation from renewable energy sources, and increase statewide energy efficiency,” the order said.
The project’s directors and design team have worked closely with the Town of Ramapo and its consultants for over a year to craft the DEIS. Project Architect Keith Cady relates: “The Town clearly wants to see responsible and sustainable development. Feedback from Ramapo’s consultants over the past year has resulted in a project that will exceed many of New York State’s energy targets.” The project’s representatives have also been working extensively with Orange and Rockland Utilities (O&R) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA),
The new campus would unite the many departments producing the Applicant’s creative work in support of its religious mission. The non-residential portion of the A/V Production Center, totaling 789,182 square feet, includes offices, maintenance and set production workshops, and a central chilled/hot water plant with geothermal heat recovery system. The project also includes an 118,075 square foot Visitors Center for pre-registered guests. (See chart for proposed building square footage, height and residential unit numbers.)
The proposed live/work facility is integral to the religious missionary and educational work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Occupants will be members of the Order, all of whom are adults without minor children who live under a vow of obedience and poverty, or adult religious volunteers, who will be assisting on a short-term basis.
Accommodations for the resident staff would include 645 residential units in ten buildings totaling 771,654 square feet, dining/assembly spaces, recreation/wellness/fitness facilities, and a clinic. The proposed 645 residential units would accommodate up to 1,240 residents, all of whom are expected to be working at the site. Most of the units would be double-occupancy, but a few would be single-occupancy.
Jehovah’s Witness sold its Watchtower properties in Brooklyn and relocated its operations and volunteers to its World Headquarters complex in Warwick in August 2016. Between 800 to 1,000 volunteers live and work at the World Headquarters property. In 2016, the Kushner Cos., bought the Watchtower headquarters at 25-30 Columbia Heights and a development site at 85 Jay St., in Brooklyn for $685 million, according to a report in Globest.com. In 2017, Kayne Anderson acquired the Jehovah Witnesses’ 21 Clark St. apartment building in Brooklyn for approximately $200 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.