PZC votes 4-3 to grant Goose Lane application

Thursday, December 18, 2008 1:57 PM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night, after lengthy discussion, approved a special permit that will allow Chabad of the Shoreline to build a synagogue and day care center at 181 Goose Lane.

The PZC voted 4-3 to grant the application. It imposed 12 conditions as part of the approval, the most contentious of which limits the number of people who can use the building at one time to 150, except for 10 days a year, primarily Jewish holidays, when 200 can attend. Several PZC members expressed concerns about the intensity of the use of the site, leading to the restrictions on usage.

Commissioners Shirley Girioni, chairwoman, as well as Robert Richard, Jonathan Bishop and Ray Bower, voted for the project; David North, David Grigsby and Michael Scott voted against the motion.

Grigsby thought the intended use was too intense for the 1.3-acre lot, and he believed the new building would adversely affect nearby residential property values.

One condition for special permit approval is that the proposed use not adversely affect neighbors’ quality of life and property values.

About two weeks ago, the PZC began its review of the plan, and Girioni noted that commission members were no longer allowed to receive input, including letters, from town residents or others on the project since the public hearing was closed Nov. 19.

“The decision can only be made based on what has been in the record, and the record was the public hearing,” she said.

At their Dec. 5 meeting, commissioners discussed the different criteria for approval of a special permit, which is required for a religious building in any zone.

The property where Chabad hopes to build the synagogue and day care center currently has a three-family house and is zoned for residential use. It is bordered by residential and commercial zones, and sits across the street from an industrial park.

At the Dec. 5 meeting, it appeared the proposal had the backing of some commissioners.

Girioni said she thought the synagogue would fit in with the neighborhood, given the building’s proximity to Interstate 95, satisfying the special permit condition that the building be in harmony with the neighborhood and the town and not impair adjacent home values.

“I think that you have this proposal for a low-impact institutional use, which I think would provide a very positive resource for the town and also provide diversity of culture,” she said. “I think it fits in with that diversity of zones (in the area).”

Grigsby said he did not think it was clear whether the area should be viewed as residential or mixed use.

“The biggest question is, which direction do you want to stand in looking to define what the neighborhood is?” he said. “This is a residential-zoned parcel, and this is right where the dividing line falls” between the commercial-industrial and residential areas.

Commissioners also discussed the question of how many people will be using the facility, which had been a point of contention throughout the public hearing.

The applicant’s attorney has said the plan is for a maximum of 200 participants at a few important holidays every year.

“My concern has always been if the building itself allows for some large occupancy … it could in fact turn out to be a different owner or tenant (in the future) who may maximize the building,” Grigsby said.

Town Attorney Charles Andres said he believes the commission could include a condition of approval limiting the number of people allowed to use the building at one time.

Another key point was the potential increase in traffic at the site, as one condition for a special permit is that the local roads and entrance/exit for the property will safely allow for any additional traffic.

“It’s obvious there’s going to be more traffic there,” Bower said at the earlier meeting, “but the real standard we must measure against is, will there be an undue hazard or congestion?”

The other conditions for approval are that the building will have adequate fire access; the lot is large enough for the building and sanitary facilities; and the architectural design does not conflict with nearby properties.

Despite Wednesday night’s vote, efforts to stop the project from going forward will continue, as Donna Criscenzo and Sherrye McDonald, two neighbors of the proposed site, have already filed a lawsuit saying that a covenant from the property’s sale in 1947 restricts it to residential or farming use. The civil action is pending in Superior Court.

Chabad of the Shoreline, a Jewish organization currently based in Branford, first filed an application to build the facility in 2006. It later withdrew and resubmitted the plans, and has revised them several times to the current proposal for a 13,700-square-foot building with a synagogue, social hall, classrooms and a kitchen.

The group is also planning to build a home for Rabbi Yossi Yaffe and his family on an adjoining lot behind the future site of the synagogue, but does not need a special permit to do so.

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