November 20, 2013 —
Mayor Mark Berentsen is under fire from several directions after a published report that he allegedly was set to receive water and sewer services after the controversial approval of a 396-unit development, which is being marketed to the Hasidic community.
The project, which is under development and now includes a private school for girls, has been stirring controversy in the rural community for years. An investigation into the situation has reportedly been initiated by the state attorney general.
Against this backdrop, the mayor and members of the village board cut short the regular meeting in September, and cancelled outright the meetings scheduled for October and November.
This development prompted New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to fire off a letter to Berentsen offering to help find a place to hold the meeting if a lack of space was the cause of the cancellations.
Gunther wrote, “It has come to my attention that, for the second consecutive month, the village board has cancelled its meeting. As elected officials, it is our responsibility to act in good faith toward the people we serve. Community members have tried to voice concerns about the processes and procedures of the village relative to the development known as Chestnut Ridge. They have a right to be heard at a village board meeting. If the reason for the cancellation is the board’s inability to find a space that is large enough for the anticipated public participation, I am happy to work with you to locate a suitably sized space.”
She copied the letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The battle over the development began heating up about 18 months ago when construction on the project began. When the project was first proposed in 2006, it was pitched as a development of about 190 luxury homes in a community with a swimming pool and golf course, and it was argued that it would provide local jobs
After the current developer, Shalom Lamm, took over the project, it changed to 396 townhouses with no pool, no golf course and no local jobs. The townhouses are being marketed to the Hasidic community as full-time residences, not as weekend homes.
According to a website set up by Rural Community Coalition, www.ruralcommunitycoalition.com , the development could increase the adult population of the tiny village from about 200 to more than 800, while, depending on the size of the families that move in, the development could increase the student population of the Pine Bush School District by up to 2,000.
The development has stirred political activism among residents in the area. In the Town of Mamakating, in which the village of Bloomingburg is located, candidates aligned with opposition to the development, who ran on the Democratic and Rural Heritage lines, won landslide victories in an election that swept long-time supervisor Harold Baird out of power.