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Ramapo Zoning Board Of Appeals Said Applicant Has Met Its Burden To Obtain Variances To Build Density Housing On Union Road
For citizens fighting a housing development, it feels like Groundhog Day.
Susan Shapiro, attorney for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood, known as CUPON, and homeowner Sharon Doucette have once again sued the Town of Ramapo, its Zoning Board of Appeals, its Planning Board, and the Monsey-based developers over Bluefield Extension, a proposed high-density residential project slated to be built on Union Road in Hillcrest.
The suit filed March 21st, asks Rockland County Supreme court “annul, vacate, and set aside” variances granted by the town’s ZBA that would allow the developer to build ten, three-story buildings containing 15 units on a 1-acre lot zoned R-15, which would allow three- to four homes per acre at 122-130 Union Road under existing zoning. The developers are listed in the suit as Bluefield Extension LLC and Sunshine Gardens Realty LLC.
Additionally, the plaintiffs are asking the court to “annul, vacate, and set aside” a 2021 negative State Environmental Quality Review Act declaration, and to be awarded costs and attorney’s fees.
This is the third time the plaintiffs have come to the court asking for relief from town approvals for the project. In January 2020, then Acting Justice Sherri Eisenpress ruled that the town failed to comply with the law requiring a referral to the Rockland County Planning Board. In this ruling, the judge voided zoning board variances allowing the project to proceed.
The applicant returned to the ZBA and obtained use and area variances in 2020. The plaintiffs came back to court a second time and won relief vacating the use and area variances, as well as the Planning Board’s SEQRA determination that there will be no significant environmental impacts from the high-density project.
After returning to the zoning board, Bluefield Extension was granted variances based on the “applicant’s inability to realize to a reasonable return from each of the uses permitted in the R-15 zoning district.” The ZBA was essentially giving weight to the applicant’s hardship. Additionally, the applicant successfully argued that granting the variances “would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood” because of the growing number of density housing projects in the vicinity including Park Towers, Royal Garden Apartments, and multiple three-family buildings.
The ZBA has defended its decision, saying the applicant met its burden to secure the needed variances, and their proposal is “consistent with the pattern of development in the area, and the area already has many multi-family developments in close proximity to the development.”
Ramapo has appealed Eisenpress’ order to the Appellate Division. The appeal is still pending.
In their third filing, Shapiro argues that the recently granted variances should be set aside, once again, for jurisdictional failures and for “arbitrary, capricious, and irrational” decision making by the ZBA, as well as failure to comply with the requirements of SEQRA.
The plaintiffs allege the ZBA has ignored the mandates of the comprehensive plan, which call for preserving R-15 neighborhoods. This tract, they cite, is a “transition area,” between Monsey and lower density neighborhoods.
They also allege the planning board and applicant “lied” on its SEQRA application, saying that they represented the site was not included in any comprehensive plan, and later said their development fits in the existing comprehensive plan.
They also allege that the applicant wasn’t entitled to variances because their hardship was “self-created,” meaning they bought the project knowing it was not zoned for their intended use.
In its Feb. decision, the ZBA overrode many recommendations from the Rockland County Planning Department, which echoes the concerns of CUPON. In its most recent suit, CUPON argues the information given to the Rockland County Planning Department was “neither complete nor accurate.”
The town and the applicants’ responses are due April 29.