South Blooming Grove sued by county for alleged unauthorized development while new info surfaces about 'missing mayor'

The property is owned by the county, which has now filed a lawsuit against one of those municipalities, South Blooming Grove, and its contractors.

Blaise Gomez

Jan 30, 2023, 8:54 PM

Updated 476 days ago


Gonzaga Park is 216 acres of untouched forest and hiking trails between two of the fastest growing municipalities in Orange County.
The property is owned by the county, which has now filed a lawsuit against one of those municipalities, South Blooming Grove, and its contractors.
News 12 obtained a copy of the Supreme Court lawsuit that alleges South Blooming Grove officials passed a unanimous resolution to "trespass" and "destroy property" to illegally clearcut a portion of the property to create an unauthorized road called the "Mangin Road Bypass."
Village attorney Scott Ugell told News 12 he can't comment on the litigation but said, "I anticipate the matter will be solved successfully in the near future."
News 12 reported on concerns about alleged overdevelopment in the village Friday and tried to question officials at Village Hall about the whereabouts of Mayor George Kalaj, after residents reported the official has been missing from his duties for two months.
"My taxpayer dollars are paying his salary," said Sue Anne Vogelsberg. "If he's not here, where is he?"
Assistant Mayor Joel Stern accused News 12 reporter Blaise Gomez of being antisemitic and repeatedly hurled insults while recording her efforts to obtain answers with his cellphone during a 10-minute conversation.
"Mayor Kalaj is actually out in the village, taking care of business and doesn't have time for your nonsense and BS," said Stern. "You're nobody. You're a fake. You're not professional. You're not a news reporter. You may be some tabloid, but not even that."
Since then, News 12 found Kalaj's public Instagram page that appears to show the seemingly MIA official posting photos of himself and his family in Albania starting from mid-December through at least last week.
The public official has been the subject of intense scrutiny since selling his modest bilevel home in the village on 21 acres for $4.6 million before his reelection last spring.
The property is now the future site of a school, according to village residents, and is under construction with multiple trailers on it.
The surge in village development under Kalaj's watch led Sen. James Skoufis to hold a news conference Thursday. Skoufis called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce its six stop-work orders at the Clovewood housing site – a project that allegedly seeks to build 600 homes.
"South Blooming Grove needs to start acting like an actual municipality. This isn't the Wild West," said Sen. Skoufis. "South Blooming Grove has a direct line to these developers, and it's beyond the pale that here we are six stop-work orders in hand and they are still on site doing construction."
Village officials followed News 12 to the site on Clove Road Friday and were seen immediately speaking with workers when News 12 stopped by to see if construction was underway.
Several people on site immediately closed gates, blocked the view with trucks and told News 12 to leave.
Village officials said that the developers are complying with DEC orders and that there are no violations in place.
A representative for the DEC tells News 12 otherwise and stated that they are committed to holding the applicant accountable for violations at the site and is continuing to monitor it for noncompliance.
As for Kalaj's whereabouts, Stern says the mayor doesn't have to be at Village Hall to perform his duties.
"At the next board meeting, he might or might not be in attendance," said Stern, "depending on his availability in his busy schedule."

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