Over Development of Ramapo and Chestnut Ridge – Concerns Shared by ALL! – CUPON





Grassroots groups fighting development in Ramapo


RAMAPO – A year ago, a grassroots group called CUPON was formed by a Hillcrest resident who saw an urgent need to keep the area’s development in check.

Since then, that group has helped a handful of similar organizations spring up around Ramapo, a town with a long history of civic activism. They all share concerns similar to CUPON’s, which stands for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods.

“What we wanted to do is, instead of having a big CUPON for Ramapo, we wanted an individual area to have its own CUPON-like organization,” said Micheal Miller, who started the group in Hillcrest and has subsequently helped organize other neighborhoods. “Then, if you go to a (municipal board) meeting, you’re going to be representatives of your area,” he said. “That carries much more weight than if we go as one organization.”

Ramapo is Rockland County’s fastest-growing town, home to an estimated 126,595 people with 12 villages. In recent months, new groups focused on controlling development have formed in such areas as Monsey, New Hempstead, Airmont and Chestnut Ridge.


“The goal is to empower the other members of the community,” said Hilda Kogut, who launched CUPON Chestnut Ridge this spring, noting that many of her fellow villagers have begun speaking up at village meetings about their concerns. “We’re making some progress.”

What activists are up against is substantial: More than 3,000 homes are proposed or could be proposed for large pieces of land that changed hands in recent years, according to Miller, who compiled the information based on property sale records and other sources. In addition to the 197-acre property in the Route 202-306 corridor just outside of Pomona where the controversial 479-unit Patrick Farm development was proposed, the list of parcels include the 130-acre Minisceongo Golf Club property on Pomona Road and the 145-acre former Edwin Gould Academy site in Chestnut Ridge.

Based on ongoing trends, those properties could potentially be developed into higher-density housing catering to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish families from outside the county, Miller said.

“They are bringing in Brooklyn to Ramapo,” Miller said. “It’s going to become an extension of New York City.”

Orthodox Jews share concern

Tension between religious and non-religious communities has been on the rise in Rockland for the past several years, fueled by strained relations between members of the East Ramapo school community and its school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish residents who send their children to private schools.

But over-development is a shared concern in her Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, said Shani Bechhofer of Monsey, who has lived in a community called Viola Estates for more than a decade. A major housing development, also called Viola Estates, is under construction on a nearby 5.5-acre property on Viola Road, even though Bechhofer and her neighbors expressed their opposition before the Ramapo Planning Board, she said.

They formed a grassroots organization, Viola Estates Residents Allied for Integrity, which is also being assisted by Miller.

MONSEY DRIVE-IN: ‘Don’t assume it’s Orthodox-only,’ developer says. 

LAWSUIT: Ramapo developer building more apartments than OK’d by planners

TENSION: ‘Blockbusting’ pressures Rockland homeowners

EDITORIAL: Is ‘blockbusting’ happening here? 

“The more we were educated, the more we began to understand the issues that are affecting us, not just this development,” Bechhofer said. “That’s why we named our organization ‘Allied for Integrity.'”

Bechhofer said she was “disheartened” by the town’s response when she and her neighbors reported to officials that more units than planned were being built there. The property, formerly owned by Temple Beth El, was originally zoned for single-family homes allowing 1.74 units per acre, or a total 10 units for the site. In July 2013, the developer was granted a zone change to allow for eight units per acre, or 44 units on 5.5 acres.

As construction moved along, neighbors saw that the basements in each unit had been turned into what they saw as accessory apartments, according to a letter they sent to the town. Ramapo officials acknowledged the work done was not according to the plans but, instead of requiring the developer to follow the existing plans, officials approved revised plans that included a “finished lower level.”

In June, three neighbors sued Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, Building Inspector Anthony Mallia and Viola Gardens LLC., the owner of the property, over the issue. Town Attorney Michael Klein has told The Journal News the lawsuit lacks merit. Attorney Steven Mogel, who was recently retained by the neighbors, said Friday that the lawsuit, filed in Putnam County Court to avoid any potential conflict in Rockland County Court, was expected to be discontinued because of procedural issues, but “it doesn’t mean that the efforts that the neighbors have engaged in are over.”

Miller, for his part, has been leading the effort to stop a 20-unit housing development, Bluefield Extension, on the 1-acre site on the east side of Union Road in Hillcrest, along the Monsey border. The property was originally zoned for single-family homes.

“This would set a precedent,” Miller said. “If they are allowed to build that, they can come into Hillcrest and do the same thing where they want to.”

Difficult balance 

From 2000 to 2010, Ramapo’s total population grew by 16.2 percent, while the statewide population grew 2.1 percent and the county’s grew 8.7 percent. The biggest increases within Ramapo were seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages of New Square and Kaser, which grew by 50.2 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Montebello village saw a 22.7 percent increase, and unincorporated Ramapo, including Monsey and Hillcrest, grew by 20.9 percent.

In addition to over-development,  community activists keep an eye on issues such as illegal conversions of homes, zoning and code violations, and so-called “blockbusting,” the practice of persuading homeowners to sell their property cheaply by suggesting that changes in neighborhood demographics will destroy their property values.

“Some of the villages and areas are going through all of those issues, while others are going through only some of them,” Miller said. “But, eventually, every one of them is going to affect every area.”

Leaders of the newly formed community groups say they want town officials to stop “spot zoning” —  which they think has become too common — to accommodate high-density housing development. They also want officials to enforce zoning codes more stringently.

Kogut, a retired FBI special agent who moved to Rockland decades ago as a child, said she doesn’t want her community to be overcrowded.

“If we were constructing homes for people in this county who had no place to live, I would not have been so offended,” she said.

Klein, the town attorney, said the town is trying meet the needs of different groups, the largest town in New York state outside of several on Long Island.

“We have many groups in the town who criticize us for not providing enough housing and enough development. We have other groups in the community that criticize us for providing too much development. So it’s a difficult balance that the Town Board needs to strike between what is appropriate, manageable development, and what might not be,” he said. “While I understand people have different views, particularly where it affects their immediate community, many people have different opinions on what’s appropriate development and what’s not.”

For the remainder of the article click here.

Shalom Lamm, Kenneth Nakdimen, Michael Fragin and RICO Appeal


Mamakating fights for RICO appeal

NEW YORK — The Town of Mamakating and Village of Bloomingburg have not given up their battle to prove that developers of the 396-unit Chestnut Ridge development conspired with former village officials to illegally misrepresent plans for the housing complex.
In a federal racketeering lawsuit filed in April 2015, the two governments alleged that developers Shalom Lamm, Kenneth Nakdimen and Duane Roe, former Bloomingburg Mayor Mark Berentsen and others worked together to improperly annex land, expedite permit approvals, monopolize wastewater treatment capacity and use voter fraud to control the local government, all so Chestnut Ridge could become the future home of a large number of Hasidic families.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed the lawsuit in September 2015, citing an expired statute of limitations, insufficient proof of a corrupt enterprise and unrecognizable damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The town appealed in December, and appeal arguments were presented Friday.



BLOCKBUSTING – Alive and Well in…




Block busting is alive and well in Chestnut Ridge. Someone stopped me while I was cutting my grass on Monday and asked if I wanted to sell my house. A van was slowly driving up and down my street this afternoon and I received this letter in the mail. Feeling a little pressured to move these days.



We are covering this topic because while “blockbusting” an illegal practice, social media has created loopholes in its enforcement. We recommend that you be diligent, warn you neighbors and say unequivocally, “NO.” when someone approaches.

We welcome personal experiences of our readership.




Materially False Statements = anti-Semitism??? What?


Based on those documents, it appears that “materially false” statements were made to get Chestnut Ridge’s approval, the board said, and the project may cause significantly adverse impacts to the water supply, wastewater treatment, traffic, government services and schools.

The new Bloomingburg village board is seeking candidates for a reconstituted village planning board, but until it is formed, the town has jurisdiction.

The developers had not received notice of the hearing by Wednesday evening, but spokesman Michael Fragin said the town appears to “have once again chosen the path of confrontation and litigation in a discriminatory effort to target Bloomingburg’s Hasidic community.”

Shalom Lamm’s Lies May Be Coming Back to Haunt Him


*** BREAKING NEWS *** Approvals for Bloomingburg development may be rescinded


May 26, 2016

The Mamakating planning board, which at least for now still has jurisdiction over Bloomingburg planning decisions, unanimously adopted a resolution on May 24 calling for developer Shalom Lamm to explain why the approvals granted for his controversial development Villages at Chestnut Ridge should not be rescinded. The resolution explains that the planning board will consider rescinding the approvals.

The approvals were granted based on the information contained in environmental documents, which are required by the state for such developments. The resolution says the information provided to the planning board as part of the environmental review process seems to be false. That assertion is based on documents unsealed by a federal court in April in which Lamm reveals that the intent of the development was ultimately to house thousands of Hasidic families, which would put the population well beyond what was foreseen in the environmental documents.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) dates to June 2009 and according to the resolution said “that the anticipated number of occupants of the 396-dwelling unit project will not exceed 810 and that the number of school-age children will not exceed 110.” But the documents unsealed by the court last month, according to the resolution, “appear to demonstrate the developer’s plan to develop the lands contiguous to and in the area of the Chestnut Ridge project for the construction of 5,000 dwelling units over a 10-15 year development period, lands already acquired or optioned by the developer.”

The resolution says it appears that the size of the community that was laid out in the unsealed documents, would have environmental impacts, which had not been taken into account, on water, sewer, traffic, government services, schools and other areas. The planning board scheduled a “due process hearing for the applicant/developer to be held on June 16, 2016, at 7:00 PM, at the Town Hall.”

It’s not entirely clear how this will play out. The last election in was in March and was held in the wake of Sullivan County making a deal with a number of challenged Hasidic voters who were registered in Bloominburg, which made it difficult if not impossible for any voters to be challenged again. In that vote, the Village of Bloomingburg Board changed from having a majority of members who were seen to be opposed to Lamm’s development to one with a majority that is seen to be in favor of Lamm’s development. The new village board is seeking candidates for a new Bloomingburg planning board, which would undo the current arrangement with the Town of Mamakating planning board, but that has not yet taken place.

The court that ordered the documents unsealed did so as part of the lawsuit brought by Lamm against the Town of Mamakating and the Village of Bloominburg because Lamm was denied a permit to build a girl’s school. But another case (which was thrown out, but that decision is being appealed) is a RICO lawsuit against Lamm brought by the town and the village. Observers had expected that, because a majority of new board is understood to be in favor of Lamm’s development, the village would have withdrawn from the RICO lawsuit, but to this point that has not happened.

To read the remainder of the article and the Resolution click here.



Protest – Call to Action, May 16th

Contributors May 9, 2016

Residents are calling on themselves, their neighbors, law enforcement, politicians and the media to find a way to use those documents to bring criminal charges of fraud against those involved in approving and constructing the high-density housing project Chestnut Ridge.

From the Herald Times:

MAMAKATING — Residents of the Village of Bloomingburg and the surrounding Town of Mamakating are calling for action — from everyone.

Two weeks after developer documents describing a secret long-term plan for Bloomingburg were published, residents are calling on themselves, their neighbors, law enforcement, politicians and the media to find a way to use those documents to bring criminal charges of fraud against those involved in approving and constructing the high-density housing project Chestnut Ridge.
About 70 people gathered at Mamakating town hall Thursday night for a Rural Community Coalition meeting, where they discussed the recently published documents and what further actions can be taken to get justice for what they believe were crimes committed against their community.
RCC President Holly Roche said the documents, which described a long-term plan to build 5,000 homes for Hasidic families in Bloomingburg and take control of the village government, don’t help the RCC build a new civil case against developers Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen and the former government officials who approved Chestnut Ridge.

But she said she hopes the documents will be a tipping point for a criminal investigation.
The FBI raided Lamm’s Bloomingburg offices in 2014 and has interviewed local residents as recently as last month. Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell has also stated he is looking into the allegations of fraud and corruption in the village, but no charges have been brought and several civil lawsuits against the developers have been dismissed.
At Thursday’s meeting, residents signed letters addressed to Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and state Senators John Bonacic and Bill Larkin asking the representatives to make public requests of the state comptroller’s office to open an investigation into the Bloomingburg situation.
A protest was scheduled for Monday, May 16, from noon-4 p.m. at the Sullivan County Courthouse. Residents want to call out law enforcement for their lack of action, and again ask their local politicians to help bring attention to the issues.

“There really should be a public shaming,” Roche said.
Roche reminded the community to be vigilant, and pay close attention to any land deals or business partnerships that could pave the way for fraud. The community is in a better position now to stop any fraud before it occurs, Roche said.

“We are here, and we’re watching,” Roche said.