Saturday, October 22, 2016

Developer Lamm gets $2.9M in settlement with Bloomingburg, Mamakating 

The Village of Bloomingburg and Town of Mamakating have agreed to a settlement with developer Shalom Lamm, staving off a trial set to begin next month in the two-year federal lawsuit that accused the municipalities of religious discrimination against building projects.

Lamm’s company, Sullivan Farms II, will be awarded $2.9 million, with $1.305 million paid by the village’s insurance carrier and $1.595 million paid by the town’s insurance carrier. None of the money will be paid out of the municipalities’ coffers, and no party admitted any fault.

Lamm filed the lawsuit in September 2014, accusing the town and village of unlawfully blocking his building projects in order to prevent Hasidic Jews from moving into the area. Lamm’s most infamous project, a 396-unit townhouse project called Chestnut Ridge, has been fought by town residents for years. The town filed a racketeering lawsuit against Lamm and former village officials over Chestnut Ridge, which has since been dismissed.

The village board of trustees and village planning board voted in favor of the settlement at consecutive emergency meetings held Friday afternoon in village hall. Mayor Russell Wood said he has wanted the lawsuits to be over since he came into office in March, so he considered Friday a good day for the village.

“On the whole, this is for the best interest of the taxpayers,” Wood said. “This is a good deal. It’s a shame it had to come to any of this.”

Trustee Aaron Rabiner agreed.

“The insurance company is picking up the tab,” Rabiner said. “It was a no-brainer for us.”

The town is much less complacent about the settlement. Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann attended the village meeting Friday, and gave a brief press conference afterward to announce the town has also agreed to the settlement despite moral objections.

The town’s contract with its insurer had a “no consent” clause, which meant the insurer could accept a settlement with or without the town’s approval, Herrmann said. The town board discussed the settlement proposal during an executive session at its meeting Tuesday night, but did not announce anything to the public. On Friday, Herrmann confirmed that during the executive session the board gave him authority to proceed with settlement negotiations, which he finalized on Friday.

Herrmann said the town “vehemently denies any wrongdoing,” and that Lamm settled in order to cut his own losses.

“This disgraceful, baseless lawsuit sought to intimidate and distract the town board’s attention from delivering government services to the community and providing the leadership they were elected for,” Herrmann said, adding that it was a “public relations stunt.”

Steven Engel, counsel for Lamm, said he hopes the settlement will show that bigotry has no place in America.

“It is our hope that this ugly time is now behind us, and that all the residents of this beautiful region can live together in peace and mutual understanding,” Engel said in a statement.

Town and village residents loudly objected to the idea of Lamm getting any money, as the boards voted on their respective resolutions Friday afternoon. Two FBI agents in suits sat stoically in the back row, serving as a silent reminder that Lamm has been under federal investigation for more than two years.


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