Friday, July 26, 2013
More than 70 people took to the streets Thursday evening to protest the planned construction of a 250-student Orthodox Jewish religious school at 8 Eckerson Lane.
The protesters gathered at Hillcrest Plaza on Route 45 around 6 p.m. before making the half-mile march in front of the property, a three-story house being used as temporary classrooms. They chanted and held signs as community activists spoke.
"There are a lot of problems with what they want to do with this school," said organizer Michael Miller, 67, using a bullhorn. "First and foremost is they are building a school here that people in this community cannot use."
The school is being built by Mosdos Sanz Klausenburg, a Monsey-based congregation. Plans call for adding a 35-foot building with 27 parking spots and a recreation area of 7,500 square feet. The existing three-story structure would be converted into administrative offices for a staff of 12 and housing for a caretaker.
Ramapo building department inspectors issued two stop-work orders before Anthony Mallia, director of building, planning and zoning, approved an application for temporary use of the building for at least a year.
One complaint from residents is that they weren't told about the plans or allowed to comment on its design or size. Another is that the school will hurt property values and bring quality-of-life issues such as increased traffic.
But other complaints — that the school will be a foothold for a rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — go to the heart of Ramapo's political and ethnic tensions, including the battles in the East Ramapo school district.
The neighborhood, which includes Trinity Avenue and Rockland Lane, is largely working class with a racial and ethnic mix that includes Haitians, South Africans, blacks, Hispanics and non-Orthodox Jews.
"We are a multiethnic, multiracial society here," said Hillcrest resident Nancy Mirsky, 59. "We've worked hard to live together in a friendly manner. We don't want anybody to destroy the character we have."
Reached by phone Thursday night, Abraham Spitzer, a representative from Mosdos Sanz Klausenburg, said he was eager to answer residents' questions about how the school will coexist with the neighborhood.
"We are looking forward to getting to know our neighbors and responding to all their comments and suggestions," he said, declining to comment further.
The property, surrounded by one- and two-story suburban homes, is still very much a work in progress, with dirt, straw and rocks covering much of the front yard and driveway.
Row Torabi, who lives across the street, said he saw several yellow school buses pull up Thursday in front of the property.
"They were very noisy," said Torabi, 56, who took part in the demonstration. "I don't think that road was built for school bus traffic. I think it will be unsafe for me and my family."
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