Friday, August 12, 2016
Bloomingburg is not known for friendly village board meetings, but hostility was higher than usual during Thursday's meeting, which was supposed to be primarily public hearings about reinstating a village planning board and a zoning board of appeals.
The rancor began promptly, with residents peppering Mayor Russell Wood with questions about the village's July bills, and from there it progressed to a woman asking Wood to tell Hasidic residents to take off their hats during the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Every time I've come, they don't know the words," she said. "I know they love America, but they don't know the words."
"What, they don't speak English?" another resident chimed in.
"Hey, enough," Wood said, less than five minutes into the meeting. "We're not doing that."
The us-versus-them and anti-Wood sentiments continued throughout the meeting, which was crammed with close to 90 people, well over capacity for the room. Residents questioned Wood repeatedly, about everything from the recycling pickup to fire code violations at Chestnut Ridge to allegations of corruption amongst the board members. Toward the end of the meeting, a non-Hasidic woman got into a shouting match with a Hasidic man. Several times Wood tried to get the crowd under control.
"Can you guys stop with this?" Wood said at one point during a discussion about hiring a maintenance worker. "My God, don't you ever get tired of this?"
The topic of fire code violations at the controversial high density townhouse complex Chestnut Ridge was a favorite topic of the night. Residents asked Wood and Hasidim who live in Chestnut Ridge whether they care about the safety of the children who live there, slamming Wood for allowing construction to continue at Chestnut Ridge before developer Shalom Lamm widens the roads according to instructions by the state. Hasidic residents smirked at the insults, leading non-Hasidic residents to accuse them of believing that children dying is funny.
Two Hasidic women, who only gave their initials, D.S. and E.F., because of the climate in the village, said after the meeting that the hatred was palpable Thursday night.
"It was so obvious, the idea that they really hate us," D.S. said.
Eventually, the board opened two public hearings about reinstating the village planning board and zoning board of appeals. The board voted at its last meeting to terminate its inter-municipal agreement that gave the Town of Mamakating planning and zoning jurisdiction over the village. At the September meeting, the board will vote to appoint five members of a new planning board and three members of a ZBA. So far, 11 people have applied for the boards, Wood said. Judging by those who speak at meetings, Hasidic residents are in favor of village-controlled boards, while non-Hasidic residents of the village and surrounding town wish to keep control at the town level, because they do not trust Wood, who was planning board chairman when the 396-unit, Orthodox-designed Chestnut Ridge was approved.
Moshe Meisels told the board that he thinks it's the right decision to bring back village planning and zoning boards.
"I think the reason to have a village is to have a local voice in our law, and there's no reason people who (don't) live in our village should make our laws," Meisels said.
Danny Wise spoke out against the move.
"You were the planning board head here, and you screwed up all of our lives," Wise said. "So thank you, Russ."
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