Sky Meadow Road: Ramapo residents blame illegal school for turning road into sheet of ice

RAMAPO - A sheet of ice created dangerous conditions along Sky Meadow Road amid the latest cold snap and the conditions have heated up residents who have been pressuring Ramapo officials to take action against illegal schools operating in the semi-rural neighborhood.

Dr. Masood Haque, who lives on Sky Meadow Road, said he almost slammed his SUV into a tree on Dec. 24 as he drove across the sheet of ice in front of 36 Sky Meadow Road, one of the two single-family houses being used as yeshivas.

Sky Meadow Road ices up from what residents' claim is poor drainage from a driveway constructed at a school operating without Ramapo permits
Sky Meadow Road ices up from what residents' claim is poor drainage from a driveway constructed at a school operating without Ramapo permits

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Neighbors have complained about schools

Haque and other neighbors said the school operators have been doing construction and cutting down trees for two years. They blame the drainage issues leading to the iced-up road on the unauthorized paved driveway. They contend Ramapo allowed construction without reviewing plans for drainage control.

"These conditions are the direct result of governmental malfeasance and corruption," Haque said in a Dec. 24 email to Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht. "The Town of Ramapo is negligent by allowing single-family homes to be converted into commercial dwellings in blatant violation of existing zoning laws."

The neighbors, like those from other communities in town, said Ramapo officials, instead of protecting the integrity of the neighborhoods, have accommodated developers and congregation leaders who ignore zoning and building regulations, and fire and safety codes.

Larry Frenkel wrote Specht on Dec. 24 that in his nearly 17 years living on Sky Meadow Road such road icing never happened until Yeshiva Shaarei Arazim opened at 36 Sky Meadow Road. The school is one of two that have opened without town approvals.

Frenkel said more severe storms never caused such unsafe conditions. He argued the problem arose from unauthorized land clearing, paving, and other construction.

He said he anticipates the worse, citing the high volume of traffic, including vans and buses, and the lack of adherence to speed limits. He said a third school is supposedly being planned for the neighborhood.

"I imagine some form of enforcement will occur after an incident occurs on Sky Meadow Road, which is inevitable," Frenkel said. "There is a severe impact on the residents of Sky Meadow Road and the quality of living on the block and in the community."

Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht
(Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)
Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Schools opened around September 2020

Specht said he received the emails about the icy road conditions and other issues during the Christmas weekend.

Alyssa Slater, first assistant town attorney, said Tuesday that 36 Sky Meadow is due before the Planning Board on Jan. 10.

The supervisor and Slater said Tuesday they would continue to seek further information from building inspector Ian Smith.

Shortly after the house at 36 Sky Meadow Road was sold in September 2020, a private boys’ school, Yeshiva Shaarei Arazim, with an estimated 80 to 90 students, began operating, said neighbor Lise Crapella, who has lived on Sky Meadow Road for 46 years.

Crapella has said neighbors did not receive any advance notice as buses, vans, and cars drove up and down the long narrow uphill driveway, dropping off and taking home students.

Another boys' school, Yeshiva Birchas Hatorah, with an estimated 30 to 40 students, later opened in another single-family house on the combined properties totaling 2.76 acres at 40 and 42 Sky Meadow Road.

After residents reported the schools, Ramapo Building Department Code Inspector Peter Muzzi issued the congregations violation summonses in February. Both structures have certificates of occupancy as single-family houses, but no permit to operate as schools. Justice Court is handling the cases, officials said.

The Ramapo Building Department said violations included:

  • operating a boys' school without an approved site plan;

  • no certificate of occupancy and changing the use to a boys’ school from a single-family house;

  • no building permit;

  • violating a stop-work order;

  • land disturbance without a permit.

Slater said Justice Court action on the violations would wait until the school makes its way through the land-use boards. But, Slater said, new violations could be issued at any time if problems arise.

Crapella said during last week's rainstorms, water poured down the expanded driveway at 36 Sky Meadow Road. Then the rapid deep freeze hit.

Sky Meadow Road in Ramapo turned into a sheet of ice near unpermitted yeshiva
Sky Meadow Road in Ramapo turned into a sheet of ice near unpermitted yeshiva

She said building inspector Smith wrote her on July 14 that the excavation work was done in collaboration with the town engineer. She noted the work occurred even though the town had not given the school approval to alter the terrain. Smith said in the email the driveway is being stabilized as the town engineer recommended.

"There are some steep slopes that they need to cut back," Smith wrote. "The bottom of the driveway also required stabilization, which is what they are doing now. No further work is taking place."

Whatever work was done didn't prevent the water from cascading down the driveway and freezing the road, neighbors said.

"It’s a disaster waiting to happen with all the traffic to and from the schools," Crapella said. "It is only getting worse with each rain or snowstorm. We only have one way in and out to get to our homes and this is unacceptable. This never happened before all this excavation took place. It is literally unsafe for us to get to and from our house and walk on Sky Meadow Road."

Ramapo emphasizes compliance, not fines

Ramapo's policy is to allow property owners caught in violation of codes to generally continue operating if they file plans with the town's land use agencies.

Specht and other Ramapo officials have said the town's goal is to seek compliance with the zoning and building and fire codes and to ensure the safety of residents and first responders. They also have argued that state court decisions prohibit banning those in violation from appearing before land-use boards.

A representative for the Sky Meadow yeshivas, Stuart Fine of Eaton Springs LLC, in Chestnut Ridge, has said school administrators are working to get approvals.

Critics have argued that allowing property owners to operate in violation of codes and zoning after being caught only encourages violations. Lee Ross, a 37-year resident, said the concept of asking forgiveness after getting caught doesn't work.

Ross, an environmental activist who has been critical of town policies, has called the town’s handling of the Sky Meadow schools “a travesty." He has said the schools disrupted a quiet residential neighborhood in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains and the Mahwah River drinking water source is being ruined.

"I have lived here for 37 years and the driveway was stable for the first 35," Ross said of the recent problems with the icing.  "If it requires 'stabilization', it is because the town of Ramapo has allowed them to drive school buses and heavy equipment that was never required when it was a single-family home, which it still is if they followed the zoning laws."

Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at Twitter: @lohudlegal.

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This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Ramapo's Sky Meadow Road near illegal yeshiva becomes a sheet of ice