ROCKLAND COUNTY SUES RAMAPO: Lawsuit alleges town officials sidestepped rules to downzone property at Bluefield Extension project
BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
While former Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence continues to languish in a federal prison only three months into his 2 ½-year sentence, the effects of his administration’s policies in connection with land use applications continue to haunt the residents of Ramapo. Now, the County of Rockland has had enough and has sued the town in Rockland County Supreme Court.
According to papers filed with the Supreme Court, the county is asking a Supreme Court judge to declare invalid and unlawful an approval of a property known as the Bluefield Extension project located on 126 – 130 Union Road opposite Bluefield Drive in the unincorporated section of Ramapo.
After exchanging ownership of the property between several entities within a three-year period, the owners of the approximately 1.05-acre parcel sought to subdivide to property from a single residence zoning with a minimum lot size of 15,000-square feet into small lots via a use variance. The county claims that it was denied its rights under New York State General Municipal Law to review the application and submit comments to the zoning board of appeals.
Although several applications were submitted for review and ultimately withdrawn, on January 30, 2014, the Town zoning Board of Appeals granted a use variance allowing the development. However, according to the zoning board of appeal’s resolution approving the variance, it was indicated that “the disapproval (of the county) is hereby over-ridden as the (zoning) board disagrees with its finding…” The problem was, according to the county’s lawsuit, the county never received the entire application and never issued its findings or a statutory review.
Additionally, the county claims that it sent a letter to the then-Deputy Town Attorney Michael Specht (now supervisor) stating that the minutes of the board meeting indicated a review by the County Planning Department when, in fact, none was ever done. The county never received a response from this letter.
The county claims that the town and the applicant conspired to deny the county from exercising its rights under New York State law. The town’s failure to allow the county an opportunity to review the complete plans is a jurisdictional defect that would invalidate the approvals issued for the property. According to Assistant County Attorney Larraine Feiden, Esq., if the county was successful and the approvals invalidated, the applicant could go through the entire process again, as long as it and the Town of Ramapo complied with the applicable laws.
The property had previously drawn some public attention when Legislator Charles Falciglia (R) penned a column on the Rockland Voice website detailing a questionable “flip” of the property involving Ramapo Tax Receiver Yitzchok Ullman, who also has served as a former town councilman and as acting supervisor following the corruption conviction of Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.
Falciglia wrote on October 22, 2017:
“On March 13, 2013 a Mr. Zishe Babad purchased a property known as 126-128 Union Road in Spring Valley from Lazerbeam Acreage LLC for $290,000. Lazerbeam had purchased the property in 2010 from a Joseph Gross of Spring Valley for $209,000.00.
”Mr. Babad had a busy day that March 13, also purchasing the neighboring property of 130B Union Road, also in Spring Valley, from a Mr. Lesser Gross for $275,000. Eight months earlier Lesser Gross purchased the property for $175,000.
“Babad obtained mortgages of $217,500 and $206,250, respectively, to purchase the properties, a favorable LTV (Loan to Value) of 75% based on the purchase price of the properties; not necessarily the appraised values.
”Fast forward to May 14, 2015, 26 months later. Mr. Babad separately deeds 126-128 Union Road and 130B Union Road to Lesser Gross as Trustee of the Yitzchok & Shifra Trust, (03/08/13), 20 percent interest; and Yitzchok Ullman as Trustee of Lazerbeam Trust, (03/08/13), 80 percent interest for $0.00.
“Yes – the same Lesser Gross that sold 130B Union Road to Babad 26 months earlier for $275,000. Yes – Yitzchok Ullman, the same name as the current Ramapo Town Supervisor, former town councilman and 2017 candidate for another town council term.
”Yes – No consideration, but in actuality the transaction has all the signs of a table-flip, as the two trusts sell the properties the same day to Bluefield Extension LLC for $2.2 million. “Yes – $2.2 million! $900,000.00 for 130B and $1.3 million for 126-128. Certainly a small premium to pay for any developer gambling on a huge future payoff from multi-family dwellings.”