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.
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Empty fields and old farmhouses line Winterton Road in Bloomingburg. Lamm’s three model homes, set back just a few dozen yards from the road, are two-story apartments set together into a single building. Through the back windows, past a snowed-in porch and a tiny yard, you can see the half-finished shell of a much larger neighboring building. That one is made up of five adjoining two-story apartments.

According to Herrmann, there’s no residential development this dense in all of Sullivan County. Lamm said that there are similar developments nearby, though he cited towns in Orange County as examples.

The objections kicked up following the construction of the model homes led to further digging by the local paper. In December, the Herald-Record reported that Bloomingburg’s mayor and Lamm’s firm signed a deal shortly before the village’s planning board approved the development that would extend access to a water delivery system, to be developed by the firm, to property owned by the mayor and his family. Experts quoted by the Herald-Record said that the mayor’s actions appeared to be improper.

Bloomingburg’s mayor, Mark Berentsen, did not respond to telephone messages left at his home and business.

The Rural Community Coalition now draws up to 200 people to its meetings. Signs on lawns and intersections throughout village condemn the project, and a website attacks it. Last summer, hundreds of people started showing up to Bloomingburg’s village board and planning board meetings, swarming the tiny village hall across the street from Happy Dragon City, the Chinese restaurant. Chem Lonz, the owner of the restaurant, has a video on his iPhone of police cars and residents filling the street during one overflow session. The village has canceled most of its meetings since then. But at a raucous planning board meeting last December, planning board members voted to deny a proposal by Lamm’s firm to turn a large garage in the village into an all-girls’ school. Lamm has since sued to challenge that decision.

No Deal: Chinese restaurateur Chem Lonz insists he won’t sell his Happy Dragon City eatery to a Jewish developer seeking to transform the town.
Martyna Starosta
No Deal: Chinese restaurateur Chem Lonz insists he won’t sell his Happy Dragon City eatery to a Jewish developer seeking to transform the town.

Meanwhile, there are stop work orders in effect against a number of Lamm-owned properties, including some storefronts in Bloomingburg and a nearby building where his firm wants to build a mikveh. A judicial order currently limits work on the Winterton Road project itself to the dozen buildings already under construction.

Lamm has a clear explanation for the activists’ opposition to his project: Jew hatred.

“If you’re a conspiracy theorist and you think the Jews control things and are pulling puppet strings, then this all looks like this grand conspiracy,” Lamm said. “It’s basic anti-Semitism. You would have to be a believer in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to think that we could actually manipulate the world this way. It’s a complete absurdity.”

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