RAMAPO – Residents can offer Ramapo officials their views on the Jehovah's Witnesses' planned mega audiovisual-dormitory complex and the development's environmental impacts.
A written comment period is open until June 21. The Ramapo Town Board will host a virtual public hearing on May 26 for residents to comment on the environmental impact of the worldwide religious organization's potential tax-exempt development. The board is the lead agency on approving the development.
Jehovah's Witnesses, also known as Watchtower, has petitioned Ramapo to build a production center for its religious materials amid 242 acres outside Sloatsburg, with seven acres extending into the Orange County community of Tuxedo.
Group officials have said the development and living facility would be self-contained off 155 Sterling Mine Road. The development would integrate work and living buildings designed for followers to support the Christian denomination's increasing production of Bible-based audio and video programs.
The complex would resemble a small village and include 645 apartments in 10 buildings for up to 1,240 residents.
Energy efficient plan
Known for its door-to-door proselytizing, the Jehovah's Witnesses are going high tech.
Spokesperson Jarrod A. Lopes said the plans exceed some of the most ambitious goals of New York state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy generation from renewable energy sources, and increase statewide energy efficiency,
The energy-saving measures are estimated to save $740,000 annually in utility costs when compared to a conventional oil-fired boiler/chiller system, said Keith Cady, the project’s architect.
Matthew Mordecki, one of the project’s directors, said, “The best way to reduce a facility’s environmental impact is to reduce the need for energy to begin with.”
The facility would generate energy through 120,000 square feet of photovoltaic panels, producing two megawatts of electric power, or 20% of the site’s energy demand, Lopes said. The live/work nature of the site means vehicles generally are not used for commuting to and from work.
The complex would include offices, 600 housing units in multiple-family buildings, underground parking, a fitness area and a visitor center for the public.
Zoning, tax questions
The Jehovah's Witnesses website provides details on the 1.7 million-square-foot project, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
The organization is asking Ramapo to rezone part of the site to a mixed-use zoning district for a residential commercial complex.
Ramapo officials also have to remove from its 2004 Comprehensive Plan references to the tax-generating former Lotterdan adult residential housing development.
Lopes has said the Jehovah's Witnesses plan to seek tax-exempt status.
"The purpose of the complex is strictly religious," he said. "As such the facility is tax-exempt. However, significant tax revenue will be generated for the region through the procurement of goods and services from local suppliers, contractors and consultants."
The Jehovah's Witnesses announced plans for the Ramapo property in 2019 during a meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, according to the organization.
The denomination bought the 249 acres in 2009 for $11.5 million and, later moved from their 4,000-square-foot headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to Warwick.
Former Sloatsburg Mayor Carl Wright has said the village has no say on the development, although the Sloatsburg Fire Department and district would have involvement.
His preference would have been to leave the land barren, noting the wildlife — turkeys, bear, deer, rattlesnakes and copperheads — and rural nature bordering the state parks.
"I always prefer the land remain vacant," Wright said. "When we start cutting down trees, we do affect the environment, add traffic to secondary roads, drainage issues.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.