Mamakating Takes On Bloomingburg A Second Time, Hires Another PR Firm...
MAMAKATING – At last week's Mamakating town meeting, the board voted in executive session to commence a new lawsuit against Village of Bloomingburg trustees and the village planning board. This lawsuit will revisit the bitterly contested issue of approvals granted for construction of the controversial Chestnut Ridge development in 2009, and later rescinded by the town during the summer of 2014 during a short period when the village handed off its planning board responsibilities to the Town of Mamakating.
The new action springs off a recent decision in State Supreme Court, County of Ulster, that found in favor of Mamakating's action by dint of their finding that developers "deliberately misrepresented the Project occupancy rate, thereby affecting the approving authority's projection of resource use and resulting fiscal impacts."
At the heart of this long running controversy lies alleged deceit on the part of Chestnut Ridge's developers, who originally proposed an upscale golf-course-oriented retirement-style community but changed it to a 396 town home development during the process. This was colored by accusations that the town homes would be sold exclusively to Hasidic Jews.
The developer struck back, arguing that he faced anti-Semitic prejudice from the existing community, a case that he won over $3 million from the village and town in a settlement called for by the municipalities' insurance carriers.
In the summer of 2014 Bloomingburg was moving towards a vote on dissolution into the town. Along with planning decisions, the village ceded code enforcement and zoning appeals to Mamakating. This was seen as a defensive move, during a time when the Hasidic population in the village was quickly growing. The 2014 village elections were preceded by an FBI raid on a number of properties in the village that were said to be homes for new residents.
However, the referendum on village dissolution was defeated that autumn by forces alleged to have been allied with the developer Shalom Lamm. Those same forces prevailed in the 2015 village board elections when mayor Frank Gerardi was replaced by Russ Wood, who had been on the planning board when it originally okayed the Chestnut Ridge application.
One of the first actions of the new village board was to bring back the planning powers to the village, along with code enforcement. At a series of village meetings, notable for a palpable sense of fury and division among the audience packing out the hall, the decisions of the Gerardi era were undone.
There were questions raised at the time about the speed of that process and whether it moved in strict accordance with state law.
A cascade of lawsuits in both directions mostly came to nothing during 2015. Attempts to undo the approvals failed in New York State courts over the statute of limitations. A federal civil rights case, filed by the developer against the Town and Village alleging religious discrimination, ended with the settlement worth $2,900,000, paid to the developer. In addition, the Sullivan County board of elections was made to pay $575,000 and accept appointment of a federal monitor and the publication of voting materials in the Yiddish language in another court settlement. At the time, Mamakating supervisor Bill Herrmann responded with a statement that the settlement had been forced on the town by its insurance carrier.
Then, at the close of 2016, came the arrests of the developers, Shalom Lamm, Kenneth Nakdimen, and a young associate Volvy Smilowitz, by the FBI, who charged the three with conspiracy to corrupt the election process in 2014.
Now, Herrmann says, the town is ready to resume litigation.
"We spoke with our attorney on this, and he enlightened us. So, we ordered him to go ahead and prepare the case," the supervisor said.
Asked if there were funds in the budget to cover this, Herrmann answered, "Sure, we got the money."
Herrmann and the board have also engaged Soury PR, a Manhattan-based public relations firm.
"We felt we needed some dedicated person to communicate with the press concerning the legal things going on this year," Herrmann said. "It's going to be important to have accurate reports in the media."
Two years ago Mamakating also hired a PR firm based in Washington D.C., who helped file a racketerring case against the Chestnut Ridge developers that was eventually thrown out of federal court, and eventually saw some of its emails with the town cited in the federal civilrights case as it moved towards settlement.
Attempts to reach officials at the Village of Bloomingburg were unsuccessful prior to deadline. Calls to Philip Butler at Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter and Donovan, the village attorneys, were also not returned.