By Eli Ruiz
BLOOMINGBURG A new larger venue was able to contain the large crowd at Tuesday evening’s Village of Bloomingburg board special meeting, but not the emotions of the close to 300 in attendance.
Originally slated for August 9, the meeting had to be rescheduled, and a larger venue secured to accommodate the overflow crowd that showed up at the tiny village hall more than two weeks ago.
Hosted by the village board, the gathering stemmed from a controversial but already approved 396-unit mega-development being called The Villages of Chestnut Ridge set to be built on the nearly 200 acres comprising the old Raymond Farm property on Winterton Road in the village.
The developer for the project, Shalom Lamm, requested the special meeting so that he could make a presentation to, and answer questions from, the residents of Bloomingburg, many of which he felt were misinformed about the project.
Many in attendance proudly sported Rural Community Coalition (RCC) t-shirts. The RCC is a grass-roots organization founded by Mamakating resident Holly Roche. The group has led the effort in opposing the large development, as well as what it calls other questionable proposed land uses in and around the village and the Town of Mamakating.
Lamm started his presentation with a timeline of the project that as he said, “Started about seven years ago.” According to the developer, in 2006 the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation was moving to cite the Village over its failed wastewater treatment plant. With the village in need of an updated plant, and the costs associated with such an endeavor described by Lamm as “a small fortune,” an agreement was reached between Lamm and the village board in 2010 stipulating that Lamm and his Black Creek Holdings build a state of the art waste water treatment plant before moving forward with the housing project.
The developer then went over his original plans for the project which as he said, “included a bunch of single family units on one side and townhouses on the other.” The project would include a golf course, with all units having frontage to a tee, green or fairway.
In 2008, though, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation set forth a wetland determination that Lamm described as “devastating to this development.” The DEC, said Lamm, asked him to cluster the almost 400 units. The golf course, which Lamm claims to have spent a “princely sum” to plan, had to be scrapped unless 100-foot wetland buffers were installed. Regarding the development’s current “clustered” design, Lamm explained, “it’s nothing any developer wants to do and developers hate clustering . . . I hate clustering, but that’s what the DEC demanded.”
Though relatively quiet throughout Lamm’s presentation, the crowd came to life during the Q&A portion of the meeting with emotions running high at several points.
Hilmar Maier questioned the accuracy of the well test data for the Winterton Road property. Lamm responded by grabbing the microphone away from Maier, much to the crowd’s dismay. Many screamed at Lamm and one gentleman yelled for Lamm to “give the man the microphone.”
A visibly angry Lamm responded, saying, “Let me tell you what’s not gonna happen, and let me make this perfectly clear… I don’t have to be here and there’s no law that requires me to be here… if this happens, I’m leaving. Mr. Maier made a very rude, snide comment and accused me of hiding something and I just wanted to respond.”
After calming down a bit Lamm assured the crowd that the well tests were in fact accurate and conducted by licensed engineers.
RCC board member Bill Herrmann questioned Lamm about an alleged old cemetery and dump on the Winterton Road property. Lamm explained that somewhere in the number of 4,000 test pits have been dug by certified state archeologists and no graves or a dump have been uncovered. Asked by Herman why no realtor has been assigned to the property with close to 400 potential units to fill, Lamm explained, “You will find I have built thousands and thousands and thousands of homes… I have, to the best of my knowledge, never used a realtor.” Lamm also expressed his own dissatisfaction with the exteriors of the three homes already built and said, “it’s a huge investment and we will not sell the homes until we are satisfied. Right now there is nothing for sale.”
Lamm also promised to begin testing some new textures and exteriors for the homes in the coming weeks.
Perhaps the most tense moment of the evening came when environmental investigator Vince Ferry came to the microphone and questioned Lamm on some past dealings with former Orange County legislator, Dan DePew. Lamm almost immediately charged toward Ferry and attempted to grab the microphone from his hand. When Ferry refused to give the microphone up Lamm disconnected the sound system altogether.
In an interview Ferry said, “He [Lamm] just wants to make his presentation and intimidate the people, but as soon as he’s questioned about malfeasance he wants to shut the meeting down.” Ferry spoke of the importance of storm water management and especially in the post Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee era. “It [the storm water management plan] needs to be revisited on this project… especially since it was set in place pre-Irene and Lee.”
“It [the presentation by Lamm] was like an infomercial… a lot of bull,” said Mamakating resident Greg Ercolino. “He left more questions than he gave answers and he was rude, condescending and thin skinned and I just think it’s funny how he thinks he can dump this project on our heads and think that we’re just gonna sit back and watch him destroy our community.”
With many Bloomingburg residents still looking for answers to questions and uncertain what kind of future lies ahead for this tiny village of about 400, plans for this mega-development move forward and threaten to nearly triple the villages population and forever change the rural character of the area.
A call to Shalom Lamm for comment has garnered no response as of press-time.