Sunday, December 15, 2013

Developer of controversial Bloomingburg homes threatens lawsuit 

The developers of a proposed girls school fed by a Hasidic development are fighting back following the school's Thursday night rejection by the Planning Board of this eastern Sullivan County village.

A lawsuit is a possibility.

After the cheers of the crowd of about 150 died down following the board's 3-1 vote, developer Ken Nakdimen threatened that legal action. Such a school is apparently allowed by Bloomingburg zoning.

"They don't have a right to do this," he said. "They're opening themselves up to a lawsuit."

On Friday, Nakdimen's business partner, Shalom Lamm, would not rule out a suit, issuing this statement:

"We strongly believe that the application for the school should have been approved on its merits and we are disappointed in the planning board's decision. We plan on appealing this decision immediately."

As for legal action?

"All options are on the table," he replied.

Opponents of the school and development fear the projects — both apparently Hasidic — would overwhelm their village of some 400 people.

They also say they don't want a school — or development — built in their village that they can't use, even though the developers say the 396 town houses are open to everyone.

But if Bloomingburg is sued, it must hold a Village Board meeting if it needs to hire additional legal counsel.

It also might need to meet to hire more lawyers to defend itself from a move to oust Mayor Mark Berentsen. Project opponents have charged him with conflict of interest and violations of municipal law over his approvals of land deals for the development.

But Bloomingburg hasn't held a board meeting since August, even as the controversy over the development and that girls school heated up.

Paying bills — for everything from legal advice to heating costs — is the main legal reason a municipal body like Bloomingburg must hold regularly scheduled meetings, says the head of the state's Committee on Open Government, Bob Freeman.

"A board cannot take an action like paying bills without having convened an open meeting" where it votes on that action. says Freeman.

Otherwise, "there are no general requirements" for holding regularly scheduled meetings, said Freeman.

As for holding board meetings with only two members, as the board would have to do now that member Joe Gotthardt has resigned?

Freeman said that as long as the two members — Berentsen and Charlie Griswold — vote the same way, village business could get done.

But if they don't agree?

The village can't legally act.

"If they split, there's no action taken," said Freeman. "You always need an affirmative vote of the majority of the total membership. That's been the law in New York since 1909."

Berentsen and Griswold did not return calls for comment.


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