Shalom Lamm – Stacking the…Board?

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jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/new-salvo-in-battle-over-upstate-chasidic-development/

New Salvo In Battle Over Upstate Chasidic Development

In wake of indictment against project’s developer, another court fight underway; did Shalom Lamm stack local planning board?

From the beginning, a proposed 396-unit townhouse development in the upstate Village of Bloomingburg was riddled with controversy. It was marketed primarily to chasidic Jews in Sullivan County, and when local officials sought to delay the project by claiming it did not conform to the state fire code or other regulations, they were called anti-Semitic.

But last December, Shalom Lamm, the project’s developer, and two associates were arrested on a federal indictment alleging that they had overcome municipal objections to the project by falsely registering voters who would elect public officials favorable to it.

The project ran into more difficulty when the developers’ secret planning documents and emails — which became public because of other litigation — revealed plans for a much larger project than publicly proposed.

That led the Town of Mamakating — in which the village lies — to rescind its approvals for the housing development. Although a court upheld that action, the Village of Bloomingburg’s planning department reissued the approvals. Now, Mamakating has taken Bloomingburg to court seeking to annul that action.

The developers, who were also included in the town’s suit, issued a statement claiming the town’s action was “nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate issues and claims that have been dismissed and rejected previously by federal and state courts.”

They pointed out that filing the suit in Ulster County rather than in Sullivan County, in which the village is situated, speaks to the town’s “having been admonished by a Sullivan County judge in September 2015 that `enough is enough’ in his dismissal of the town’s lawsuit at the time.”

The town was then suing the village to stop it from issuing certificates of occupancy for completed townhouses.

“This endless litigation has saddled the taxpayers of the Mamakating and Bloomingburg with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal and public relations fees,” the developers said. “Chestnut Ridge is likely the most scrutinized residential project in the history of Sullivan County if not the entire Hudson Valley. The developers have gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with every rule, regulation, and stricture requested by every regulatory agency and all applicable codes.”

Town Supervisor William Herrmann told The Jewish Week that although New York State has home rule, which allows each village to operate as an independent entity, “if the village does something that affects the town, we have standing.” Herrmann added that Christopher Grell, who lives next to Chestnut Ridge, has joined as a plaintiff in the suit.

Ben Gailey, an attorney handling the town’s suit, explained that “the project poses a significant impact on the community and Grell, as a neighbor, is directly harmed by it.”
In explaining the town’s decision to sue the village, Gailey said a court “has already ruled that project approvals were lawfully rescinded, therefore the village planning board does not have the authority to rubber stamp the approvals. No new evidence was presented to allow the village to reverse the town decision. Had they had uncovered new evidence that justified reversing that decision, they would have something to talk about but there is none.”

But Russell Wood, the mayor of Bloomingburg, insisted that the planning board’s actions were legal.

“We have our own government and our own governing body and of course we are allowed to make our own decisions,” he told The Jewish Week.

The developers, who were also included in the town’s suit, issued a statement claiming the town’s action was “nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate issues and claims that have been dismissed and rejected previously by federal and state courts.”

They pointed out that filing the suit in Ulster County rather than in Sullivan County, in which the village is situated, speaks to the town’s “having been admonished by a Sullivan County judge in September 2015 that `enough is enough’ in his dismissal of the town’s lawsuit at the time.”

The town was then suing the village to stop it from issuing certificates of occupancy for completed townhouses.

“This endless litigation has saddled the taxpayers of the Mamakating and Bloomingburg with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal and public relations fees,” the developers said. “Chestnut Ridge is likely the most scrutinized residential project in the history of Sullivan County if not the entire Hudson Valley. The developers have gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with every rule, regulation, and stricture requested by every regulatory agency and all applicable codes.”

In court papers, the town suggested that the planning board had approved the project because the developer handpicked the majority of its members. It said the developers then “assured their takeover of the village’s government through voter fraud, as demonstrated by the federal indictment” against Lamm and an associate, Kenneth Nakdimen. A third associate, Volvy Smilowitz, was also indicted.

Herrmann said the town rescinded its project approvals after the developers’ private documents revealed that they had worked “in complete secrecy” since as early as 2002 to make Chestnut Ridge phase 1 of a “giant and transformative development.” The plan called for the annexation of adjoining land and building 5,000 to 7,000 housing units, along with large-scale commercial development over a 10 to 15-year period.

And although the developers sought approvals for a project whose total occupancy would not exceed 810 — an average of two persons per household — and no more than 110 school-age children, the secret documents revealed that the intended number of occupants per household was 10, according to court papers.

One of the documents said: “Critically, the development is in Bloomingburg, N.Y., 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.”

In upholding the town’s decision to rescinded the project’s land use permits, Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott found that the developers “deliberately misrepresented the project occupancy rate, thereby affecting the approving authority’s projection of resource use and resulting fiscal impact. Further, the resolution contains detailed calculations concerning the differential fiscal, water use, waste treatment and traffic demands, etc., generated by the new projections ….”

The federal indictment states that the developers bribed voters by offering payments to get non-residents of Bloomingburg to unlawfully register to vote.

“Lamm, for example agreed to pay an individual $500 for every voter that the individual procured, and Lamm and Nakdimen’s real estate company ultimately paid the individual more than $30,000 per month for his efforts,” according to the indictment. “The defendants took steps to cover up their scheme to register voters who did not actually live in Bloomingburg by, among other things, creating and backdating false leases and placing items like toothbrushes and toothpaste in unoccupied apartments to make it seem as if the falsely registered voters lived there.”

Holly Roche, president of the Rural Community Coalition, which is spearheading community opposition to the project, said many residents and elected officials believe there will be more indictments.

“The FBI continues to attend every village board and planning board meeting,” she said.  “The secret documents clearly state that their [the developers] intent was to take over the boards.”

She said some of those board members live in homes in which Lamm is the landlord and she questioned whether all pay rent. One of them, she said, “moved here in 2014 and has lived at three addresses owned by Lamm.”

Roche said she watched in amazement as people were bussed into the village to vote on Election Day in 2014. Although 420 people voted in the village election, she said, only 174 voted in the general election. She said she believes the latter figure more accurately reflects the number of residents in the village.

“I think the people on the village board and planning board are doing the bidding of the developer,” she said. “Just as the indictment says, the board is a puppet board and told what to do. … I’m going to press for a state investigation of the village government.”

Asked about the developers’ charge that anti-Semitism is the reason they have struggled over the years to secure the necessary building permits, Roche replied: “I’m Jewish and what has happened here is nothing but criminal corruption.”

Continue reading here.

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2 thoughts on “Shalom Lamm – Stacking the…Board?

  1. I really hope this guy ends up in prison. At least, since this is a Federal and not New York, there is the possibility.

  2. I visited Bloomingburg, a village with which I have some connections dating from the 1960s. The sorry part of this is that the village resembles a slice of Appalachia now, frankly decrepit-looking with little employment. I stopped for gas at a local Mobil station and poultry were strutting among the pumps – it looked like West Virginia. The Lamm buildings look good by comparison with the majority of what I saw elsewhere around there. It’s unfortunate that the Hasidic approach is to move in, elbows flying, and to try to take over and disenfranchise the local residents. The town could use an economic boost – just not from arrogant, insular Satmar and the likes of Lamm.

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