Opponents face off over synagogue

By Rachael Scarborough King
Sept. 6, 2008

GUILFORD — Partisans have blanketed the neighborhood with letters. Local newspapers have been filled with residents’ opinions. And more than 150 people crowded a Planning and Zoning meeting this week.

The long-simmering debate over building a synagogue on Goose Lane has reignited, more than two years after the initial proposal.

Chabad of the Shoreline, a Hasidic Jewish organization based in Branford, is applying to build a 17,000-square-foot religious center and day care at 181 Goose Lane. Some neighbors say the building is too large for the lot and would increase traffic dangers in the area.

The town requires a special permit to build a religious facility in any zone, and the Planning and Zoning Commission held an initial public hearing on the application this week.

The 1.28-acre property, which sits near the Exit 59 interchange on Interstate 95, is zoned for residential use and has a house on it.

The Chabad group first applied to build the center — which would offer activities including Friday night and weekend religious services and a summer camp — in 2006, but later withdrew and resubmitted the plans with some changes.

In addition to the synagogue, Chabad plans to build a home for its rabbi on a second lot behind the Goose Lane parcel, but does not need a special permit to do so.

A hearing Wednesday night lasted more than three hours and focused on the applicant’s arguments in favor of the proposal. The Planning and Zoning Commission continued the hearing until Sept. 17, and may add another date, if necessary.

Marjorie Shansky, an attorney representing Chabad of the Shoreline, said the synagogue would represent an ideal “transition” use for the property, which is bordered by lots with both residential and commercial zoning and is down the street from the Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center.

“Across the street is the largest industrial zoning district in the town of Guilford, and then you have, of course, the transitory service zone of Route 1,” Shansky said. “This is really a perfect use for this parcel.”

Shansky also noted that it is “quite typical” for religious buildings to be located in residential neighborhoods.

A traffic expert for the applicant said his analysis shows that the synagogue would not add a large number of car trips to the area and would not overload local intersections, although he is continuing to take further measurements. An independent traffic analyst working for the town said he is waiting for the additional data before making a recommendation.

“Most of the activities that are scheduled to occur, do not occur in typical roadway peak times. They occur in the evenings and weekends,” said Mike Wilson, the applicant’s traffic engineer.

The proposed project includes 69 parking spots in a paved lot behind the building, which would be set into a hill with the main entrance on the uphill side.

The main areas of opposition are in relation to what neighbors say will be an increase in traffic and a commercial feel in the neighborhood, and the depreciation in value for neighboring homes, according to a Web site opposing the project, www.savegooselane.com.

Donna Criscenzo, whose home and medical practice is on the property next door to the proposed synagogue site, said Thursday that she does not think the applicant has supplied thorough enough figures about the synagogue’s capacity and how many people will use the facility.

Shansky said at the hearing that the group expects about 100 people to use the facility at any one time.

“Their arguments hinge on a projected intensity of use which we think is an insufficient projection for the capacity of the building,” Criscenzo said.

She added that traffic and the use of the synagogue at night and on the weekends are main concerns for her.

“It’s already a very congested traffic area, and I think the intensity of use in the future for this building will make it much worse,” she said. “The quality of my life would change so much that I can’t even comprehend what it would be like.”

The neighbors have hired a lawyer, Edward Cassella, to represent them at the hearings. Criscenzo has also filed a lawsuit against Chabad, saying that a covenant signed by an earlier owner of the property prohibited anything but a house there. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the development.

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