Legal officials representing both Rockland County and the Village of Chestnut Ridge say they took legal action against the Town of Clarkstown because it and its town board illegally closed Samuel Road. In June, the town blocked Samuel Road to prevent speeding and heavy traffic on Newport Drive. County and village attorneys said this action was illegal.
The state Supreme Court will consider the proceedings either together or separately on Friday, Oct. 12 and the town’s response to the legal actions is due several days earlier.
County Attorney Jeff Fortunato said the county filed its papers, an Article 78, against the closure in State Supreme Court on Friday, Sept. 14. That same day, Chestnut Ridge brought a hybrid Article 78/Declaratory Judgment action against the Town of Clarkstown and town board of Clarkstown.
“We believe it was fundamentally illegal and violated a public trust,” Fortunato stated. “In this case, it (the closure) centered on the concerns of a small number of people.”
Fortunato said the county’s lawsuit includes four plaintiffs: the legislature, county executive, District 15 Legislator Patrick Moroney on behalf of his constituents and Charles “Skip” Vezzetti, the county highway superintendent and chairman of the county drainage agency. The lawsuit seeks annulment of the town's two resolutions and claims the action violates state highway law and potentially could impact public safety.
Fortunato said the only legal grounds for closing a road is when the public general is not using it. A municipality’s responsibility is to hold streets and roads for the general public and it has no authority to block a roadway to benefit a few members of the community. He said if a road is of any use to anybody, it cannot be closed.
Clarkstown officials originally said they blocked Samuel Road access to Newport Drive because of speeding vehicles, heavy traffic and dangerous driving. They could not be reached for comment on the lawsuits.
“Clarkstown closed the road because they claimed there was too much traffic,” Chestnut Ridge Village Attorney Doris Ulman said. “You can’t do it.”
Ulman listed two main procedural problems with the closing.
“We believe that the closing of the road has environmental impacts that they did not review,” she said.
She said the Clarkstown Town Board did not conduct an environmental review, which is required by state law. She said the impact on other roads that might get the diverted traffic was not analyzed.
Additionally, Ulman said the action ignored the potential of the nearby Pascack Brook to overflow and how snow removal would be hampered because trucks would have to back out of streets in hazardous conditions. She said emergency services are greatly impacted by the barrier if they need access to Newport Drive because they waste valuable time stopping and unlocking and locking the barrier.
The second problem, Ulman noted, was Clarkstown should have dealt with the issue with a local law not a resolution because a local law would require a public hearing.
Despite the public outcry in Chestnut Ridge against the closing and a meeting of village and town officials in August, their efforts have not been successful. She said they asked for the breakaway barrier to be removed until information could be reviewed but Clarkstown refused.
“They said no, they would not do it,” she said. “We had no recourse.”
Clarkstown's police department and traffic consultant are scheduled to present pre and post road closure reports at the October town board workshop.