Briarcliff Planners to Yeshiva: It’s Not 1978 Anymore

The former Pace University campus on Elm Road photographed in July 2021.

The Briarcliff Manor Planning Board has a message for the Monsey-based congregation that wants to turn the former Pace campus into a yeshiva for up to 350 college-age men: It’s not 1978 anymore. 

That was the planning board’s response to Yeshivath Viznitz Dkhal Torath Chaim’s repeated references to Pace’s former use of the Elm Road property as the baseline for comparing its proposed occupancy. The congregation notes that its proposed student body would be far below the 700 residential and 400 commuter students allowed for Pace,  

Planning Board members pointed out that the college’s special permit for the property was issued 44 years ago, and Pace was operated as a for-profit institution of higher learning, not a nonprofit religious school.  

“Given the length of time the site has been vacant, the age of the previous approval, and the differing use of the property, occupancy of the Project Site by Pace University is not a relevant benchmark for this review process,” the Planning Board wrote in a letter to Briarcliff’s Board of Trustees, which is considering whether to grant the yeshiva a special permit. 

The planners also raised questions about the congregation’s “vague” plans to accommodate up to 350 students over the next 10 years. 

In its June 16 report to the Board of Trustees, the Planning Board questioned why Yeshivath Viznitz needed a site as large as the 37.2-acre Elm Road parcel when it only proposed using five of the property’s nine vacant buildings. 

“Why is such a large site being used, when a site a fraction of the size could accommodate the proposed student and staff population?” the letter states, asking what the rest of the campus would be used for and how it would be maintained. 

The former Pace University campus on Elm Road photographed in July 2021.

The Hasidic congregation wants to renovate the Dining Hall, Tead House, Valley Dorm, New Dorm, and the Dow Hall to accommodate 250 students, with a projected growth of 3% a year for 10 years, capped at 350 students.   

No housing for families or the 40-member faculty would be built and no campus expansion is planned, according to the Hasidic Jewish congregation, which bought the Briarcliff property for $11.5 million in March 2021.  

Projections in the yeshiva’s application lacked specific numbers when describing special events such as weddings on the property, number of commuters, number of staff to be onsite overnight, and other plans, the letter stated. 

Concerns about security and safety of the campus’ vacant buildings were also raised.  

Planners recommended that the conditions on a special permit include caps on enrollment, annual growth, and the number of, and attendance at, special events.  

Daniel Patrick, a lawyer for the yeshiva, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the Planning Board’s letter. 

Other issues raised by the Planning Board: 

  • Will the proposed dorms accommodate the projected student growth? 
  • The proposed use of the easternmost driveway off Elm Road for vehicles and buses could cause a safety hazard. The Planning Board recommends using the main entrance further west along Elm Road.  
  • A proposed six-foot fence around the campus “is not consistent with the character of the neighborhood” and landscaping along Tuttle Road should be considered. 
  • Will gates at driveways be manned or remote, and what type of control will be utilized? 

‘No impact’ on Briarcliff 

During a June 9 presentation before the Planning Board, yeshiva representatives said the religious school would have no impact on the village of 7,569 residents. Students, 90% of whom would live on campus, would not have driver’s licenses or be permitted to leave the grounds.  

Yeshivath Viznitz representative Berel Karniol told the Planning Board the group has been operating a school in a secluded area in Monticello, NY. But as Monticello grew busier, the yeshiva sought a quieter location where students could study in seclusion. 

Karniol, a Ramapo-based builder affiliated with the congregation, acknowledged that neighbors fear the unknown, but said “they will be pleasantly surprised by their new neighbors that they didn’t even know existed.”

Yeshivath Viznitz is a postsecondary institution focusing on Talmudic and Rabbinical studies, according to its website. The Hasidic sect established the school in 1964. 

The organization has come under scrutiny in Rockland County, where its $45.5 million purchase of the former Nyack College was a factor in the dissolution of the Village of South Nyack.  

Related coverage:  

Safety, Taxes, Crowds at Proposed Yeshiva Worry Briarcliff Residents

Briarcliff to Yeshiva: Plans Not Ready for Referral  

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About the Author: Robert Brum