SOUTH BLOOMING GROVE – One week before winning an uncontested re-election race this month, Mayor George Kalaj sold his three-bedroom house in the village for a whopping $4.6 million, Orange County property records show.
It’s unclear if Kalaj still lives in South Blooming Grove, as state law requires him to do to hold office. He hasn’t responded to phone, text and email messages from the Times Herald-Record, and no one answered the door on Wednesday morning at the home on Fort Worth Place that he sold on March 7.
The house appeared to be unoccupied and the mail box at the end of the driveway was stuffed with mail.
The sale price was 10 times the estimated market value of the 2,026-square-foot raised ranch and the 21 acres on which it sits, according to county records. That inflated amount suggests the buyer plans to redevelop the large property.
Kalaj, who owned the house for three decades, had tried for three years before he was elected to sell it for nearly $3 million, pitching the property in ads as ripe for housing development. He took it off the market before unseating incumbent James LoFranco in September 2020.
The 70-year-old mayor was re-elected for a four-year term on March 15, along with two village trustees who also had no opponents in their races. Their board had passed a law in October that extended the terms for those seats to four years from two.
Speaking during a virtual board meeting on Monday night, Kalaj thanked voters for their “vote of confidence,” and trustees warmly congratulated him on his re-election.
“Mr. Mayor, we are looking forward to four more years!” Trustee Asher Guttman said.
Kalaj is paid $56,437 a year to lead a village with a handful of employees and an annual budget of $1.7 million.
Under New York law, elected village officials must live in the municipalities they represent when they are voted into office and throughout their terms, said Wade Beltramo, general counsel for the New York Conference of Mayors. The only ambiguity arises when an official moves and must justify a “fixed and permanent” address.
“One thing that is clear is that an elected village official must have an address they can point to as their residence within the municipality at all times from the day of the election until their term of office expires or they resign,” Beltramo explained by email.
Kalaj’s property was bought by a newly formed limited-liability company registered to a home address in the Highland Mills section of neighboring Woodbury. The owner of that house didn’t respond to phone messages from the Record about the purchase.
Kalaj was elected with the support of the Hasidic community that has grown since families from nearby Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn began settling in the village in 2015. Voters replaced the entire village board in a six-month span in elections in 2020 and 2021.
The Kalaj property sale was the latest large deal as developers take interest in South Blooming Grove, which has just 3,200 people living in five square miles and lots of vacant land. The Record reported on Monday about a developer paying $20 million for 287 acres in two locations in Blooming Grove, including 105 acres in South Blooming Grove.
Like much of South Blooming Grove, the former Kalaj property currently is zoned for detached, single-family homes, and couldn’t be re-developed with multi-family housing unless the village zoning is changed. Denser zoning increases land value by multiplying the number of homes a developer can sell.
Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach him at [email protected]