Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Monsey Rabbi Mendel Wagschal / slum landlord's Hyenga Lake bungalow colony to be by torn down.


At 7:27 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...


Hyenga Lake needy likely to be left out
(Original publication: May 3, 2005)

The word that Howard Hellman and Vincent DeStaso Jr. plan to raze their Hyenga Lake bungalow colony and build about 80 apartments shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Back in 1999, DeStaso paid $1.4 million for the property, just behind a retail strip along Route 59 in Clarkstown on the Spring Valley border. He immediately set about resolving hundreds of violations racked up by the former owner, Monsey Rabbi Mendel Wagschal. Wagschal had allowed the remnants of a bungalow colony — left over from Rockland's resort heyday — to become a hovel, with broken or boarded-up windows, holes in the walls and floors, leaking roofs and problems with the plumbing.

Hellman soon joined DeStaso as a partner and continued to right the violations.

But even then, in mid-2000, Hellman said the eventual plan was to raze the bungalows — there are a dozen or so on the property, some with more than one housing unit — and a boarding house and replace them with as many as 150 units with monthly rents up to $1,500.

The plan now seems more modest. Hellman and DeStaso are asking Clarkstown to allow 80 apartments on 12 acres. Approval could be a year or so away, with construction taking about two years.

No one should expect DeStaso and Hellman to forgo making a profit on their investment. Although there seem to be some differences of opinion as to how quickly repairs are being made and whether they're followed by rent increases, living conditions are far better than under Wagschal. He also drained the property profits and accepted twice the going rate from the Department of Social Services for units in a rooming house that was eventually closed and boarded up because of its extensive violations.

But losing Hyenga Lake would mean losing home to about 20 families, many on the fringe of the suburban economy.

When this saga began early in 1999 with Jane Lerner's reports on conditions there, alerted by housing activist Walter Zayas, tenants told us they paid about $600 to $700 a month. After more than 200 violations were repaired, the rents increased to reflect the better living conditions.

But those increases were too much for some residents and many said in 2000 that they wouldn't be able to afford living in the new apartments if the rents approached $1,500.

Tenants tell reporter Suzan Clarke now that they pay about $950 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $1,100 for two bedrooms.

"If you check what people are paying in rents, it's well, well below market rate," Hellman says.

That's just the point.

Below-market rents like those are drying up every time a Hyenga Lake gets replaced.

After a fire in one unit, a row of bungalows along Route 306 was replaced with large, pricey homes.

Boarding houses in Suffern and Haverstraw have been closed because of health or safety issues.

We've seen downtown hamlet apartments converted into illegal single-room occupancy and we've seen 20 Central American day laborers who lived jammed into two small apartments in Spring Valley flee for their lives when the house was fire-bombed in 1999.

As we squeeze the housing market that's truly affordable to Rockland's working poor, we'll be flirting with the kind of tragedy averted that night.

But everything we do seems to pump up the pressure.

No one wants to forgo the economic gains that have driven the median sale price of a single-family home to more than $450,000, 11 percent higher than in the first quarter of 2004.

Condo prices rose 6 percent, from $232,000 a year ago to $246,000 this year.

Already, according to U.S. census data released in April, Rockland is losing population to Orange County, where housing prices — although escalating — still trail those here.

In fact, were it not for the arrival of 6,958 new immigrants, Rockland's population would have fallen between 2000 and 2004 rather than grown by 2.4 percent.

Not all those new immigrants need the kind of housing option Hyenga Lake represents. But neither do they all fit the $1,500-a-month, market-rate profile.

To his credit, Hellman says some units replacing the bungalows will be affordable. He says they'll even try to welcome back some Hyenga residents, so long as they qualify financially. Truth is, if they need to live at Hyenga now, that's not likely to happen.

We'll simply have to find the formula — even if it's creating a county housing authority and building rent-controlled housing on land we've preserved as open space — that fills the gaps for all segments of our housing market.


By ALEX NUSSBAUM, Staff Writer
September 22, 1999
The Record, Northern New Jersey

As the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Floyd recede this week, another torrent has begun: threats of legal action over a Rockland County dam that burst Thursday, pouring more water into already swollen Bergen County streams.

On Tuesday, Rockland County officials said they were certain that unauthorized maintenance work done earlier this month by the owner of the dam had contributed to its collapse. As the county and New York State regulators promised an investigation into the dam break, Bergen County, its municipalities, and flooded-out residents and businesses all said they were considering lawsuits.

"It's really too early to say how much of an effect it had," said Charles Gasior, the administrator in flood-ravaged Park Ridge, which sustained an estimated $9 million in damage. "All I know is at some point in time the water levels rose pretty quickly. There was certainly a surge, and I have to believe the dam had something to do with it."

Vincent DeStaso, the owner of the Clarkstown, N.Y., dam, declined to comment Tuesday and referred questions to his attorney. The attorney did not return a phone message.

The Hyenga Lake dam burst around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, in the midst of Floyd's torrential rains, and sent the lake's contents surging down the Pascack Brook, which flows through several northern Bergen towns in the Pascack Valley.

Still, others cautioned Tuesday that the water unleashed from Hyenga Lake _ an estimated 30 million to 40 million gallons at best _ was a relative drop in the bucket compared with the foot of rain that fell in some parts of North Jersey.

United Water Resources, for example, estimated some 3.2 billion gallons flowed through the Pascack Brook during the storm, about 100 times the amount released by the dam.

"With 10 inches of rain flooding into the Pascack and the surrounding brooks flooding into it, that accounted for the sudden surge, I think," said George Lucia, Hillsdale's emergency management coordinator. "I don't think the dam made that much of a difference."

That has not stopped public officials and private individuals from calling for at least an investigation, however.

Along with Park Ridge, administrators in Westwood and Hillsdale and a spokesman for Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber said they would look into whether the dam break contributed to the devastation in those towns. If it did, legal action likely would follow, they said.

Meanwhile, a group of Westwood home and condominium owners and Oberg & Lindquist, a Westwood appliance store that sustained more than $500,000 worth of damage, have each hired attorneys to research suing DeStaso.

"If the dam contributed to the flooding and if there's no settlement forthcoming, either from him or through his insurance carrier, then we would have no alternative but to institute a suit," said Raphael Jacobs, the store's attorney.

The earthen and concrete dam, built in the late 1800s, has a checkered safety record, New York officials said.

On Sept. 1, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation cited DeStaso, who bought the property in February, for doing unauthorized work on the dam without a permit. DeStaso had dug a hole in the dam, ostensibly to replace a pipe, said Richard Cohen, an engineer with the Rockland County Drainage Agency.

A court date is pending. Rockland County officials called DeStaso a week ago and demanded he repair any damage caused, but before work could begin, the dam broke, Cohen said.

The 3-foot-deep hole DeStaso had dug in the 14-foot-tall dam quickly became a gaping chasm, he said.

"We feel the opening contributed almost entirely to the failure, because water was just going through that opening, chewing away at the edges, taking the soil with them," he said.

DeStaso purchased the dam and an adjacent housing complex from Mendel Wagschal, a Rockland County rabbi, whom Clarkstown officials slapped with citations for the allegedly deplorable living conditions in his homes. It is likely the dam was kept in no better shape, said Clarkstown Supervisor Charles Holbrook. The dam was built to create a recreational lake.

Long before the sale, federal regulators deemed the dam a "significant" hazard in 1978. An inspection by New York State in December found numerous cracks and other "deficiencies" in the breast and spillway, a DEC spokesman said. She could not say whether the deficiencies were corrected.

DeStaso already faces fines of $2,500 to $25,000 for each of the four citations issued for the unauthorized work. Rockland County and the DEC both said they were investigating further penalties in light of the damage from the dam break.

The DEC spokeswoman, Jennifer Post, could not say when a decision would be made.

Journal News says cash offered by landlord's son
February 18, 1999
Associated Press Newswires

MONSEY, N.Y. (AP) - A reporter who disclosed health and safety violations at dilapidated apartments commonly used by Rockland County to house the poor was offered cash during an interview with the owner's son, The Journal News reported Thursday.

The son, Menachem Wagschal, had repeatedly asked during the interview Wednesday that reporter Jane Lerner stop publishing his family's name, the newspaper reported. It said he also asked that the newspaper drop what has been steady front-page coverage of the problems at the Hyenga Lake bungalows and boardinghouse.

A telephone message left by The Associated Press at Wagschal's home this morning was not immediately returned. Daniel Bertolini, an attorney for landlord Mendel Wagschal, said he did not represent the son and could not comment.

Menachem Wagschal, who had invited Ms. Lerner to his Monsey home, placed the sealed envelope with her belongings as she was preparing to leave, the newspaper said in a copyright story. The reporter opened the envelope, saw a wad of bills with a $100 bill on the outside and returned it, the Journal News said.

Wagschal said, "It's for you. For all your time," the newspaper reported.

Robert W. Ritter, editor and vice president of The Journal News, said, "In 27 years in the newspaper business, I have never heard of a situation like this. We are going to continue to pursue this story aggressively."

Many of the people in the Hyenga Lake rentals, which are owned by Mendel Wagschal, are placed there by Rockland's Department of Social Services. Many others are Central American immigrants.

During the interview, Menachem Wagschal said the family had not been aware of 70 health, safety and building code violations and vowed to make repairs.


With the Help of the Alm-ghty

Friday, July 5, 2002

We were astonished to learn that one of the leaders of the Zionist State of Israel was invited to attend a party in our community, and gave a speech there.

This entity, which our rabbis have taught us is in opposition to our Torah, and which uproots our religion under the banner of nationalism, is the source of mischief, and is the root cause of all types of suffering experienced by our brethren in the Holy Land, exactly as predicted by our ancient prophets and by our rabbis.

Therefore, we hereby virulently protest against this treacherous act of honoring a politician of that State that rebels against G-d, to listen to his words and to collaborate with evildoers, thereby breaking down the prohibitions of our rabbis throughout the generations.

(Signatures are according to the Hebrew alphabet)

Avraham Menachem Mendel Wagschal
Rabbi of Kahal Divrei Yechezkel Shinova Synagogue


Rockland Pol Seeks ‘Constructive’ Solution
Legislator rallies Orthodox contractors to build trust, repair Hispanic-Jewish relations.
ADAM DICKTER - Staff Writer

Declaring a Monsey landlord’s apparent neglect of a complex he owns a disgrace to the community, an Orthodox Rockland County legislator is taking steps to mend fences with local Hispanics. County officials have slapped the Hyenga Lake Development, a Clarkstown bungalow colony populated mostly by Central American immigrants, with more than 70 violations of health, fire and safety codes. The complex is reportedly owned by Rabbi Mendel Wagschal, a member of the Satmar chasidic community in Monsey. A local paper recently juxtaposed photos of Wagschal’s posh residence and the dilapidated bungalows, which rent for $602 per month.

“It’s an enormous chilul Hashem,” said Legislator Ryan Karben, 24, of Monsey, using the Hebrew term for disgrace of God’s name. “For better or worse, these things lend themselves to stereotyping … and create tensions.”

In a telephone interview Friday, Wagschal blamed a management company overseeing the property for failing to inform him of the violations. “The company did not do its job properly,” he said. “We now have a new company and we are working to correct the violations. They began yesterday.”

To offset the bad publicity, Karben and Rabbi Mordechai Tendler of the local congregation Kehillat New Hempstead, are organizing a team of volunteer Orthodox electricians, plumbers and other contractors to work with Hispanic community leaders on housing rehabilitation in low-income areas of Haverstraw.

“We are sending a message to the rest of the county that this does not represent the community,” says Karben a third-year student at Columbia Law School who was elected in 1997. “Hopefully this will be the start of something very constructive,” he says.


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