Bloomingburg, N.Y. — One night in January, an Orthodox Jewish real estate developer brought a handgun to a planning board meeting in a small upstate New York town.
The gun was on the waist of one of the two uniformed security guards accompanying Shalom Lamm, who may be the most hated man in the town of Mamakating. The guard’s hat said “Security” on it, and his weapon was in full view.
Over the past decade, Lamm’s firm has bought up a lot of land in Mamakating. It owns an airport, a mountaintop tract slated for luxury homes and, most controversially, a development in the tiny village of Bloomingburg, within Mamakating, that could soon be home to thousands of Hasidic Jews.
The fight over the Bloomingburg development has ballooned into a massive brawl over jobs, Jews and the rural identity of Sullivan County, where the town is located. Voices have been raised. Lawsuits have been filed. Nasty words have been swapped. But until that night in January, no one had brought a gun to a planning board meeting.
“Never in a million years did I think he would bring an armed guard in with him,” said Bill Herrmann, the Mamakating town supervisor. “That’s like inciting a riot.”
Lamm is a middle-aged man with a black yarmulke and a quick, gap-toothed grin. He never wears a coat, even in the depths of the Catskills winter. His father, former Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm, is one of the most respected figures in Modern Orthodoxy. This winter, Shalom Lamm has a crew of 175 people building 396 two-story homes in a field in Bloomingburg, one of two villages within Mamakating’s boundaries.
The Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has taken an interest in the Bloomingburg development, which seems tailored specifically to their needs. The townhouses officially have three bedrooms, but an upstairs “office” and “exercise room” could easily be converted into extra bedrooms, bringing the total to five — perfect for large Hasidic families.
Today, Bloomingburg has a single stoplight and 400 residents. Lamm has bought up much of the village: The three buildings down a cul-de-sac off Main Street belong to his firm, as does the empty hardware store, the closed cupcake cafe, and single-family homes up and down the block. In the window of Happy Dragon City, the Chinese restaurant at the town’s lone intersection, there’s a hand-written sign: “Yes, we own the building. No, we don’t plan to sell it. We’ll be staying in this town for a LONG time.”
Teek Persaud, who owns a diner near the village and a house up on the ridge, is worried about what will happen when Lamm finishes building out the 396 homes in 82 separate buildings on the snowy field on Winterton Road. In the paddock in front of Persaud’s house, a speckled boarder horse stands knee-deep in the snow. “The new development will totally change the way of life as we know life in Bloomingburg,” Persaud said. “I love driving up Winterton Road, you know, the farms, the farmhouses, the fields getting cut in the summertime. That will not be there anymore.”