Mamakating and Bloomingburg Face Off Over Chestnut Ridge Development

Town rescinds approvals; village announces decision to nullify town's authority
July 20, 2016 Updated: July 22, 2016

MAMAKATING—The Town of Mamakating held a special session on July 13 to consider the Chestnut Ridge development in the Village of Bloomingburg.

After an extended executive session, the board voted unanimously to approve a 20-page resolution to rescind approvals and building permits for the Chestnut Ridge project.

Two days before on July 11, the Bloomingburg Village Board voted to nullify Intermunicipal Agreements (IMAs) that gave the town authority for planning, zoning, and building activities.

Village attorney Philip Butler sent a letter to Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann on July 13 informing the town of the village action.

The Village Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that would terminate the IMAs entered into in 2014 regarding planning and zoning.

Butler directed the town to “cease and refrain” from further action “affecting real property within the Village.”  

The Resolution

At the special session of the planning board, Town Attorney Ben Gailey summarized the resolution for the approximately 200 people who attended.

The resolution cited “new evidence” disclosed by a federal court in April 2016. The new information showed adverse impacts on schools, the water supply, and traffic.

The resolution stated the board relied on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared and submitted by the applicant/developer, Sullivan Farms II, Inc., which the resolution contends misrepresented the numbers of occupants and school age children.

The resolution contends the developers acted “‘in complete secrecy’ since at least early 2006 [sic], and as early as 2002, with the intent to develop the Chestnut Ridge project for exclusive occupancy by families that, on average, have eight children each,” a possible reference to family size in the Hasidic community.

Community Impact

Chestnut Ridge was only the beginning of a huge change for tiny Bloomingburg. The resolution stated, “With the initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of Chestnut Ridge will effectively control the local government, its zoning, and ordinances.”

The newly disclosed information said more development would occur in the next 10–15 years. The plan was to build “a ‘giant and transformative’ development [reference given] by annexing lands into the Village and constructing 5,000–7,000 dwelling units, community services buildings, offices, retail shopping, and large-scale commercial development on the lands adjoining the Chestnut Ridge project.”

Michael Fragin, spokesman for developer Shalom Lamm, said “there has been no effort at any time on the part of the town to come to terms with the fact that there is a growing Hasidic community in their town.”

The Town’s resolution said there was evidence that this was planned for Hasidic residents from the beginning. “Importantly, the developers have discreetly acquired hundreds of additional contiguous acres in adjacent land parcels for future development and community infrastructure including schools, schuls (synagogue), mikvos (ritual purification bathing room), retail shopping, offices, Hatzoloh garage (Jewish EMS), Refuah center (health center), and large-scale commercial development combined, the scale of what has been accumulated without public knowledge is breathtaking.”

It is hard to say, ‘We welcome people of all religions, but yet we don’t want to go ahead and allow religious people to practice their faith.’
— Michael Fragin, Spokesman, Chestnut Ridge Developer Shalom Lamm

About the town’s opposition to a Hasidic school or a ritual bath being built, Fragin said, “It is hard to say, ‘We welcome people of all religions but yet we don’t want to go ahead and allow religious people to practice their faith.'”

The Planning Board’s resolution flatly denies the anti-Hasidic charge. “The Board’s May 24 resolution was solely motivated by the public disclosure in April 2016 of the developer’s documents which demonstrate that the developer’s principals Mr. Lamm and Mr. Nakdimen knew that they made material false statements and material misrepresentations in their [Environmental Impact Statement] EISs.”

IMA Nullification

As more Hasids moved into the village, a referendum in 2014 was called to dissolve the village and assimilate it into the town. The referendum failed. If the referendum had passed, it was generally assumed that the town could mitigate the power of the Hasidic vote and have jurisdiction from within the town.

After the referendum, the FBI investigated voter fraud allegations against Shalom Lamm, who has been estimated to own as much as 70 percent of the properties in the village.

In 2014 Chestnut Ridge developers started construction, and they needed approvals and permits.

This is sleepy town USA. Bloomingburg didn’t need to have a planning board other than for Chestnut Ridge.
— informed source

According to a third party source, “This is sleepy town USA. Bloomingburg didn’t need to have a planning board other than for Chestnut Ridge. For years they would go months without a meeting.”

The village board signed IMAs with Mamakating to manage the zoning board of appeals, planning board, building inspection, and code enforcement activities.

Mamakating took over. The town didn’t have separate meetings for town and village boards, just a second agenda.

“I don’t know if there was any difference between the two [boards],” said the source. Animosity began to build. Officials on both sides acted in bad faith, said the source.  

Remedies…or Not

Bloomingburg will have a public hearing on the change on Aug. 11, and the termination could go into effect Sept. 9, according to the Times Herald-Record.

Herrmann told the Record on July 15 that the “intermunicipal agreement clearly defines a 60-day termination period and, in the meantime, the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals still have authority over the village.”

“We obey the law here in Mamakating, and we honor our contracts,” Herrmann said to the Record. “And that is the contract.”

The village hereby gives the Town written notice that the Planning Board IMA and the Zoning Board of Appeals IMA shall be, and hereby are, terminated.
— Resolution of the Village Board of Bloomingburg on July 11

Fragin said “the village notified the town [on July 13] that they no longer had authority to act on behalf of the village. At the village meeting [on July 11] they voted to start that process. That intermunicipal agreement was cancelled at the last meeting.”

The village resolution states that “the village hereby gives the Town written notice that the Planning Board IMA and the Zoning Board of Appeals IMA shall be, and hereby are, terminated.”

A proposal was offered in May to find a solution that all parties could agree to. Lamm accepted the proposal but the town did not.

The town’s resolution does not affect 51 lots and housing units that have already been built. No more housing may be sold or occupied, however, until fire code requirements have been satisfied.

Gailey said the developer may submit a new application “provided valid information complies with the state fire code and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”

“I saw the power of misinformation and I saw the anger,” the source said. “It’s bad.” The source believes the animosity vented at meetings was misplaced.

Construction at Chestnut Ridge “continues and will continue,” Fragin said, but he doesn’t like the ongoing litigation and hostility that continues to ferment among area residents.

Fragin bemoaned that the extended litigation was taking taxpayers’ money. “The endless cycle of litigation, which is only serving to cause the good taxpayers of Mamakating and the area significant amounts of money, isn’t benefiting anyone.”

He calls it a shortcoming “that people are not sitting down and talking, and that’s what should happen.”

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