BLOOMINGBURG – An audience of residents of this small village in the town of Mamakating were infuriated at plans for 396 townhomes that they fear will cater to the Hasidic community, and expressed those fears repeatedly at a village meeting in Bloomingburg last Thursday, May 17.
The village's attorney says that Bloomingburg cannot discriminate against anyone and has no say in who buys homes within its boundaries.
The Villages of Chestnut Ridge, a project proposed by developer Shalom Lamm, consists of three-bedroom, two-story units, each with its own garage, that will flank Winterton Road just south of the downtown business district. A three-unit block is under construction now. Development of the 200-acre property has been in the works for about eight years, but its newest incarnation has neighbors and other village residents fired up.
In 2006, the property was within the boundaries of the town of Mamakating; at that time, developer Duane Roe presented informal plans for 125 luxury homes and a golf course on the site. Roe said he would build a new sewer plant and improve the village's water system if the town and village agreed to annex 300 acres into the village. They did, in November 2006. After the annexation, though, the plans morphed into the current proposal presented by Lamm's Black Creek Holdings LLC... at least according to project opponents who spoke at the Village Board's reorganization meeting May 17. Mayor Mark Berentsen said the golf course was scrapped because the state Department of Environmental Conservation claimed the chemicals used would be harmful to sensitive wetland areas.
Former Mamakating town councilman Ted Brebbia said at the meeting that the crux of the problem is that the plans presented to the town are a far cry from those currently before the village. He asked if the village board would be willing to rescind the annexation based on those changes. Village Attorney John Kelly said in response that the village wouldn't comment on proposed or current litigation.
Rumors had been swirling around the village that the initial plans for the homes had two kitchens in each unit — a nod to the Jewish dietary law of separating meat and dairy preparation. Village Trustee Clifford Teich said at the May 17 meeting that he learned from a good source that the plans do not have two kitchens. During a break in the meeting Russell Wood, a village sewer plant operator who is also the village Planning Board chairman, a Bloomingburg fire commissioner, and a Mamakating town board member, pulled out the latest plans from 2011 and unrolled them for all to peruse.
Those plans show a single stove and a single sink in each unit. Each townhome's first floor has a garage, living/dining room, kitchen with dinette, library, and a bath with shower. The second floor has a master suite with full bath, two auxiliary bedrooms, another bath, a computer/game room, a laundry room and an office. People at the village board meeting said there was little to stop the homeowners from converting the library, computer room and office into additional bedrooms, making each unit a six-bedroom home. Wood answered that there was nothing stopping any resident from making a room in their home a bedroom.
In fact, 2009 floor plans online at www.chestnutridgeseqra.com show two stoves and two sinks in each unit's kitchen. In addition, there is an outline of another stove and sink inside folding doors in a "breakfast room." Some of the units on those plans have four bedrooms. The others have three bedrooms, with a media/play area that has two beds outlined inside it for a fourth bedroom.
That set off resident Amanda Conboy, who was among the 25 people who attended the May 17 meeting.
"The day I find out they [Hasidim] are moving in, I'm going to hightail it out of there," she said.
She wasn't alone.
"When you have a village like ours, with a little over 400 people, a culture has developed," said Andrew Rivas. "If the project brings in a homogeneous group that will overnight completely change the culture of this town, isn't it the responsibility of this body as representatives of the people to do something about this?"
Teich said he realizes that the village cannot discriminate against anyone; however, he said he was told that people "from all walks of life" would move into the townhomes.
"I don't like homogenicity at all," he said.
Conboy warned that if Hasidim do move into the townhomes, they will be "walking the streets" on Friday nights and Saturdays. She was cut off by resident Michael Thompson.
"I've been here my whole life," Thompson said. "This village needs something."
"You need to spend a week in Kiryas Joel," Conboy told him.
"I've been there," Thompson retorted. "It's not coming. If you talk to people who deal with Hasidim, before they started there would have been tens of thousands of Hasidics on that property so the rabbi could bless it. It didn't happen."
Teich said people constantly ask him about the project.
"I was at a political function last week, and somebody came up to me and said, 'Teich, you're history when they come in. There are going to be 700 people voting against you and they're going to have their own village board.'"
He asked Kelly if there is a way for the village to ensure there will be no religious community moving in.
"It's insane that you just asked me that question," Kelly answered.
Lamm, the developer, said he is "disturbed" by the reaction to the townhomes. In a conference room Monday morning at Black Creek Properties' offices in a majestic old house on Route 17K, Lamm was asked why the two plans have different kitchen layouts.
"Let's not dance around the question," he said.
When asked if a Hasidic community was moving into the townhomes, Lamm grew agitated.
"What if you asked, 'Are blacks moving in'? You wouldn't ask that. What kind of question is that?" Lamm said. "I find it disturbing, the question that's being asked. That's a double standard and I say, 'Shame on you.' What if I said, 'Oh, those Italians are moving in. Or those Germans, when they cook their knockwurst it smells so bad.'
"We live in America still," Lamm continued. "If you are black, white, green, purple, or even polka dot, you can live here. I believe the Constitution says that. We comply 100 percent with the fair housing laws."
When asked again why the plans online had two stoves and two sinks in each kitchen, and beds in the media area, Lamm answered, "We had a request from people to see if we could accommodate that community."
The plans have since had "thousands of iterations," Lamm added.
The three-unit model now being built doesn't even have a single kitchen, he said. It was built just to "get a feel of the flow of the building," he said.
Michael J. Grass, building inspector for the village, said in a phone call that the plans at Village Hall are the correct ones.
No matter who the future homeowners are, the townhomes won't be built for at least another three years, Mayor Berentsen noted. The sewer plant and water system need to be built before work on the rest of the townhomes begins.