Smoking gun in Bloomingburg? Documents lay out plan for Hasidic community

Posted 9/30/09

Documents unsealed by a federal judge and obtained by The River Reporter on April 19, indicate that Shalom Lamm, the developer of the controversial project called Villages at Chestnut Ridge, knew at …

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Smoking gun in Bloomingburg? Documents lay out plan for Hasidic community

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Documents unsealed by a federal judge and obtained by The River Reporter on April 19, indicate that Shalom Lamm, the developer of the controversial project called Villages at Chestnut Ridge, knew at least from 2006 that the project was intended to house a Hasidic community. Further, the document shows that the tiny Village of Bloomingburg was an attractive place to build the development because the local government could be taken over by newcomers.

An executive summary of the project, marked “highly confidential” and authored by Lamm in 2013, had specific details. It reads, “The developers of Chestnut Ridge have worked for 7 years in complete secrecy to achieve a fully approved project (Phase I). It is intended to be a transformative development; building a secure, affordable, growing Hassidic community that will ultimately accommodate thousands of families….”

“Critically, the development is in Bloomingburg, NY, the smallest village in NYS. With the initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of Chestnut Ridge will effectively control the local government, its zoning and ordinances.”

There have been multiple challenges to voters in Bloomingburg, with a state judge exclaiming at one point that members of the Hasidic community had attempted to “stuff the ballot box.” But ultimately, the Sullivan County Board of Elections made a deal with a group of challenged voters, and it became very difficult to mount further challenges. The village board now has a majority of members who support the development.

So far, about 45 units of the proposed 396 units have been completed, but the executive summary makes clear that the ultimate size of the community is envisioned by the developer to be much bigger. It reads, “Additional land contiguous to the first phase has been quietly acquired or optioned during this silent time in order to acquire adjoining properties to expand the community for many years in the future. These lands will be annexed into the village. The intention of the developers is to provide an excellent and secure solution to the housing crises, to build a complete Hassidic/Torah community with all of its support facilities, and to be rewarded for the years of secret toil and investment with a very substantial return on investment.”

Residents have said for many years that the project was first presented as a retirement community with perhaps 120 units. That plan also included a golf course and club house. But the executive summary seems to indicate that the building and a utility building were really meant to be something else. The summary reads, “As the first phase, the developers have secured all approvals and permits for 396 townhouse units, 58,000 sf of retail and professional space, permits for a large community center (shul), maintenance building (mikveh),”

Misdirection regarding this aspect of the project is further indicated in an email sent by Lamm’s partner Kenneth Nakdimen to others involved in the project in 2012. The letter reads, “I think that we are heading the wrong way with the renderings. Right now we have the goyishe architect coming up with renderings and floor plans that we need to get our approvals. We are all cognizant that we will not use those renderings for the real shul and mikvah, but they are what we need to get our building permits. Once we get our building permits, we will turn them over to the Smilowitz’s because they will be the actual builders of these buildings… The fact that the shul and mikvah will not be built like the renderings that were approved simply mean that Smilowitz will have to get as-built C of O’s [certificates of occupancy.]"

The documents were ordered unsealed after being sealed for about a year by federal judge Katherine Forrest in an ongoing lawsuit brought against the Town of Mamakating and others by Lamm. Lamm accuses the town of discrimination for denying a permit for a Hasidic girl’s school. Lamm, on the other hand, has been accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by planning a community that would only allow members of the Hasidic community to live there.

The River Reporter may follow this report with another one after examining more of the released documents. The entire executive summary is published below.

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