Hasidic Development Plans Spark Bitter Feud in Upstate N.Y. Town

Is Anti-Semitism a Factor in Fight Over Bloomingburg?

Unwelcome: Developer Shalom Lamm says he faces anti-Semitism.
Martyna Starosta
Unwelcome: Developer Shalom Lamm says he faces anti-Semitism.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis and Michael Kaplan

Published February 24, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 7)

The way Lamm tells it, the deal was a beautiful coincidence: An empty field zoned for agriculture, a broke village that needed a wastewater treatment plant and Lamm himself, a deep-pocketed developer with big plans.

Decades ago, Mamakating was a vacationland for middle-class New York Jews. Situated at the foot of the Catskill Mountains and bisected by the Shawangunk Ridge, Mamakating was at the heart of the old borscht belt, its resort hotels filled with refugees from crowded city apartments. The Shawanga Lodge was a just couple of miles from Bloomingburg, the Nevele and Kutsher’s a town or two over.

By the 1990s, that had all petered out. There are still vacation homes and bungalow colonies in the Catskills, many of them populated by Orthodox Jews, but nothing like the old resorts. Today, unemployment is high, the tax base small and the main streets dying. Yet agricultural land is cheap, and Lamm saw an opportunity to make a big bet.

Bloomingburg has its own village government, despite having just 400 residents. Planning and zoning within Bloomingburg is handled by the village, not by the larger town of Mamakating. In the mid-2000s, according to Lamm, the village needed a new wastewater treatment plant. He decided to offer a deal: Lamm’s firm would build the plant, and in return the village would incorporate within its boundaries an adjoining field that he had purchased, thereby making the field eligible for residential construction.

“The fact is, when we bought this, Orange County was booming,” Lamm said. Bloomingburg, just over the border in Sullivan County, seemed a logical spot for new development. Lamm said that his original plan was to put a golf course community on the land. “This would be inexpensive, really beautiful housing, good schools, etc., etc. That was the business rationale,” he said.

Teek Persaud worries that the rural character of the area will be lost.
Martyna Starosta
Teek Persaud worries that the rural character of the area will be lost.

Lamm says that he dropped the golf course idea and clustered the homes into three-, four- and five-unit buildings on the insistence of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Other parts of the plan changed after the economic crisis in 2008 as well. Lamm said that he has been in touch with the Satmar community about the development, but that he is in touch with other groups as well, and he is not marketing it exclusively to Hasidic Jews. Lamm also said that he never filed any document claiming that the development would be smaller than the current 396 units. Some residents remember things differently.

According to a report in the Times Herald-Record, a local paper that has reported extensively on the Bloomingburg controversy, the face of the development in 2006 was a local named Duane Roe. At a Village Board meeting in 2006, Roe told residents that the development would be a 125-home gated community for weekenders, according to the paper.

Lamm and Roe have since split, and Lamm has sued Roe. In an email to the Forward, Lamm insisted that he had not misrepresented the project: “Even if Mr. Roe made such a claim at some very early point in a discussion (I have no evidence of this), the vast, overwhelming documentation, every single public hearing, and all of the numerous public presentations made, all made over probably six years, all referred to the same 396 units that were ultimately granted.”

Yet Holly Roche, who leads an anti-development group called the Rural Community Coalition, said that neighbors were shocked when they saw the first model homes go up. “The community at large was under the impression that a 125 luxury home gated golf-course community with a golf club, restaurant, pool, walking trails — that this is what was being built,” Roche said. The model homes didn’t look like they were part of any gated community. And they certainly didn’t look like anything else in the village.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.