Monday, April 25, 2016

5,000 homes planned for Bloomingburg Hasidic community 

The highly controversial Chestnut Ridge development in Bloomingburg, which has recently seen its first Hasidic families move in, could grow to be 5,000 homes in the next 10 to 15 years, previously secret documents reveal.

The documents detail a hidden effort to lay the groundwork for a massive Hasidic development.
“The developers of Chestnut Ridge have worked for 7 years in complete secrecy to achieve a fully approved project (Phase I),” an executive summary among the documents says. “It is intended to be a transformative development; building a secure, affordable, growing Hassidic community that will ultimately accommodate thousands of families.”

“Critically, the development is in Bloomingburg, NY, the smallest village in NYS,” the summary says. “With the initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of Chestnut Ridge will effectively control the local government, its zoning and ordinances.”

One of the documents is titled “The Villages of Chestnut Ridge Executive Summary – Very Highly Confidential” and dated Jan. 14, 2013. It was sent from developer Shalom Lamm to Reuven Hellman, an employee of Meridian Capital Group, a commercial mortgage brokerage firm.

On April 11, Judge Katherine Forrest, who is overseeing a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Chestnut Ridge developers against village and Town of Mamakating officials, released certain documents to the public. Those documents, originally marked confidential for attorneys’ eyes only, outline the scope of the secret plans behind Chestnut Ridge.

Chestnut Ridge was presented to the village board in 2006 as a 125-unit golf course community, which quietly transitioned to a 396-unit high density townhouse development that was approved by the village planning board in 2009.

Room to grow

Behind the scenes, developers intended Chestnut Ridge to solve growing housing crises within the Satmar community, the 2013 executive summary says. The document includes data on the rapid growth of the Village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, and states that developers can reasonably estimate a 15-year total build-out of 5,000-7,000 homes. The homes have five bedrooms, and one proposal states that 20 percent of residents will be Section 8, or low income, though developers prefer 40 percent.

As it now stands, the development encompasses 198 acres, but developers have already acquired 500 acres of adjacent property for future construction. After building a complete Hasidic community, the developers expect “to be rewarded for the years of secret toil and investment with a very substantial return on investment,” the document said. They project the net profit at more than $330 million.
Michael Fragin, spokesperson for Shalom Lamm, said that there is a “continuum” to any development, and Chestnut Ridge has changed over time just like any development.

“Chestnut Ridge was planned and built lawfully and openly,” Fragin said in a statement. “The housing units have always been and remain open to everyone. There is nothing illegal or inappropriate about marketing homes to the Hasidic community, and the backlash that has erupted from certain quarters, is both unfortunate and intolerant.”

Fragin declined to comment on whether there are plans in place to build 5,000 units, but he said everything will depend on the housing market.

The documents describe plans for a complete Hasidic community, including shopping facilities, girls and boys schools, a shul, mikvahs, beis medrash, mosdos and a refuah center. Emails sent between developer Kenneth Nakdimen and designer Mark Weisz in 2012 discuss seeking planning approval for a community clubhouse and a maintenance building that they intend to be a shul and a mikvah.
No need for accuracy

Nakdimen wrote that it will be an ugly and political fight to get Hasidic facilities approved, so, he added, they planned to hide the buildings’ true purposes until they were already built. Weisz responded by saying they need renderings for marketing purposes only.

“They don’t need to be accurate in any way,” Weisz said. “They need to be pretty and believable.”
Attorney for the Town of Mamakating, Brian Sokoloff, said he found the documents “very interesting” when he saw them. The judge was absolutely right to make them public, Sokoloff said, and it was only unfortunate that they were released after a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by the town against Lamm, Nakdimen and others was dismissed. That case is pending an appeal.

Fragin said the developers maintain that the racketeering lawsuit is “a frivolous PR stunt.”

“Despite years of hyperbolic claims, these documents do not show any illegality or any conspiracy,” Fragin said in his statement. “[Town Supervisor] Bill Herrmann and the Town of Mamakating continue to squander tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in their quest to keep Hasidic Jews from living in their town.”

The discrimination suit is set to go to trial on Nov. 14.


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