By Eli Ruiz
BLOOMINGBURG About 200 area residents showed up for Thursday’s Bloomingburg Village Board meeting, the highlight of which was to be a presentation by Black Creek Holdings LLC developer Shalom Lamm.
Problem was, with such a large turnout and the village hall’s capacity of 85, something or someone had to give.
With dozens of attendees including several elderly stuck outside the venue, an irate and very vocal crowd watched as the Bloomingburg board attempted to carry on with the regularly scheduled meeting.
A surreal scene unfolded as Village Clerk/Treasurer Susan Berentsen, wife of Mayor Mark Berentsen, proceeded with her report to the board, over the objections of the angry crowd, who wanted the meeting immediately moved or rescheduled to a larger venue.
The crowd began to chant, “103(d), 103(d), 103(d),” as Berentsen reeled off financial figures, seemingly unfazed.
“103(d)” is a statute of the New York State Open Meetings Law that states: “Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meeting.”
Village Attorney John Kelly initially assured folks that the meeting and Lamm’s presentation would go on, but he was interrupted.
“Sir, excuse me, but you are literally breaking the law, and you really don’t seem to care,” alleged community organizer and local resident Holly Roche. “... You were notified [about the need for a larger venue]. Why didn’t you respectfully give the developer the chance to speak to everyone who wanted to come and see him speak?”
Adding to the crowd’s ire was the fact that Mayor Berentsen and the village board had at least several weeks’ notice that the turnout would be large.
Mary Donnelly of Mamakating said, “I personally called Mayor Berentsen two weeks ago to tell him that attendance would be in the hundreds. ... I called twice and left messages and nothing, not even a return call.”
Scotty Jennings, a 30-year resident of Bloomingburg, added, “I told them [the village board] a month ago that this turnout would be huge. They should have known better. ... It’s just a game to these people.”
After more back-and-forth, Lamm interjected, “I actually agree with all of you. I think everyone deserves to be here, I agree with you, and I ask that we adjourn the meeting until we have a bigger space. I want to talk to everybody, and I am siding with you.”
Soon after Lamm’s brief statement, officials apparently had a change of heart.
“The board has asked me to announce that they’re going to finish the regular meeting, that they’re going to schedule a special meeting to allow the presenter to present on a different day,” noted Kelly. “That day is going to be Wednesday the 22nd, and it will be publicized in the newspaper.”
Later, though, Kelly would announce that the entire meeting would be moved to that date.
The presentation by Lamm concerns a controversial high-density building project currently under way on about 200 acres just off Winterton Road.
Originally pitched by local developer Duane Roe in 2006 as a 150-luxury-unit development with a golf course, the project morphed into 396 three-bedroom units after Roe was able to persuade the Village of Bloomingburg and Town of Mamakating boards to annex some 300 acres of land from the town to the village.
The golf course was nixed, allegedly because the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation required wetland buffers due to fears that chemicals used in the project could be harmful to said wetlands.
The Villages of Chestnut Ridge, as the huge development is being called, could potentially triple the population of Bloomingburg.
As the large crowd began to make its way out of village hall Thursday, Roche could be heard asking Mayor Berentsen why he ignored the several calls for a larger venue. Berentsen replied simply, “I made a mistake.”
“I thought Thursday’s events were an absolute travesty. ... What a shame,” said Roche in an interview afterwards. “It was controlled chaos, and the sad part was that the mayor and the town attorney both knew what was going to happen.”
While the rescheduled meeting/presentation date is Wednesday August 22, as of press time, neither a venue nor a time has been set.