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Applicant Will Need A Raft Of Variances; Proposed Use Of Building Is Only Permitted On County & State Roads In Township But Technical Advisory Committee Has Greenlighted Project To Planning Board
By Tina Traster
Mountainview Avenue in Valley Cottage is a winding, precipitous, and often dangerously traversed road that is home to a mix of mostly single-family homes to the north and high-density housing at its southern end.
But on the peak of this mountainside byway stands the Islamic Center of Rockland (ICR), which built a mosque about a decade ago on land zoned for conservation. Now the Islamic Center of Rockland (ICR), through its landowner the Rockland Muslim Trust, Inc., is gearing up to present plans to the Town of Clarkstown’s Planning Board because it hopes to expand its 10,000 square-foot facility into a far more extensive compound by adding a 1,750 square foot addition and constructing a two-story, 32-foot high, 29,200 square- foot, two-story masonry building dug into the mountainside. Adjacent to this new superstructure are plans for a 17,500 square foot “recreation area” and next to that, parking for over 200 cars.
This is a tall request, even on a road that houses more than one condo complex, a small church, a vacant Chinese boarding facility made up of low-lying two-story buildings that was once a speak-easy and jazz club, houses dating back to the 1850s, and a sprinkle of old and newer houses.
Adding what the mosque is proposing is essentially the equivalent of building a structure the size of a supermarket onto a narrow and dangerous mountain road will be a challenge, particularly because Clarkstown’s zoning only permits this kind of non-residential use on county and state roads.
Nevertheless, these plans are not new, and the Islamic Center is now pushing forth once again.
The Islamic Center of Rockland was formed in 1989 when it purchased 15 acres of land for $350,000 on Mountainview Avenue overlooking the Hudson River. The land sat idle until 2002 when plans were originally drawn up to construct a mosque. Lack of funding delayed construction for several more years until Clarkstown approved plans in 2005. Construction began in 2006.
The first floor of the existing structure has classrooms, a kitchen, bathrooms, and community space. The second floor has a prayer area for approximately 475 people.
The Town of Clarkstown has a conservation easement around the property of varying widths from 50 to 75 feet, totaling about two acres. The conservation easement bans buildings and accessory uses in the preserved area.
The R-160 Conservation Density Residence District was established in the Zoning Code to provide protection to the town’s scenic resources, including streams, wooded-areas, steep slopes, large open spaces, and scenic vistas, by controlling and limiting development in the R-160 zone. The entirety of ICR’s property is in the R-160 District.
The ICR has appeared about ten times before Clarkstown’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) seeking a green light to appear before the Planning Board. With each appearance revisions to the plan were made, but various obstacles remain that will likely be resolved one way or another by the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals granting or denial of variances.
While some of the obstacles are considered area variances such as setbacks and density and size variances, others are far more complicated.
The ICR wants to expand in its existing location, but Town Code only allows non-residential construction on County and State Roads within the Town’s borders. The existing use is already non-conforming, and an expansion of that existing non-conforming use requires permission from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Also, a variance will be required for Maximum Principal Building Coverage. Zoning in the R-160 Conservation Zone allows for 2.5 percent of a lot to be covered by the principal buildings; the ICR is asking for 8.4 percent coverage – more than three times the allowable coverage.
Variances will also be required for Maximum Lot Coverage, and for plans that impermissibly put parking lots into setback areas.
A variance will be required for Floor Area Ratio (FAR), a calculation of the total building size compared to the lot size. The R-160 Conservation Zone allows for an FAR or .05; the ICR is asking for .12 – more than double the allowable size.
Because of its design, sharp turns and inclines, lack of shoulders and sidewalks, traffic has already been restricted on Mountainview Avenue to vehicles under three tons.
In 2017, the ICR was cited by the Town of Clarkstown for illegally clearing trees and constructing a parking lot without a proper permit. The ICR was ordered to remediate the damage done and cease using the illegal parking lot. The plans submitted include a 146-space paved parking lot adjacent to the new 29,200 square foot structure.
The Technical Advisory Committee gave the ICR the go-ahead to appear before the Planning Board. That first meeting may be held as soon as July but will more likely be deferred to September to allow for more public to participate in the process.