Synagogue opponents speak out at public hearing

Thursday, September 25, 2008 6:24 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Opponents of a plan to build a religious center on Goose Lane criticized it at a public hearing Wednesday night as an overly large development that would change the character of the neighborhood for the worse.

The hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission was the third so far on Chabad of the Shoreline’s application to build a synagogue and day care center at 181 Goose Lane. After the applicants and their experts gave evidence at the first two hearings, an opposition group — the Committee to Save Goose Lane — began its presentation Wednesday.

An attorney for the committee, Edward Cassella, said the proposed 17,000-square-foot center near the Exit 59 interchange of Interstate 95 does not meet the town’s special permit requirements, which include provisions that a development not adversely affect neighboring properties or impede fire safety access.

Guilford requires a special permit for a house of worship in any zone.

“We have no objection to the Chabad settling in Guilford,” Cassella said. “We … do not think that this is the perfect use for this site. We think that the perfect use for this site is the use that is there now.”

The property, which is in a residential zone, has a multifamily house on it. Marjorie Shansky, an attorney for Chabad, said at an earlier hearing that the synagogue would be a good “transition” use for the land, with its proximity to the Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center, an industrial park across the street and the residential area to the north on Goose Lane.

David Spear, a traffic consultant hired by the committee, said that, according to his analysis, large emergency vehicles would not be able to navigate the site. He noted that the plans only include one entrance and exit.

Commission Chairwoman Shirley Girioni, however, said that the town’s Police and Fire departments have reviewed the plans.

Spear also questioned the numbers a traffic consultant hired by Chabad used in his analysis.

Commission member Michael Scott noted that Spear’s report included a need for further study.

“It stopped short of saying the proposed project creates a traffic problem,” Scott said. “What is the impact, do you think, of the building?”

Spear said that he was hired to review the applicant’s analysis, but added that he thinks the road would still be functional.

“Except for maybe peak High Holy Days (in the Jewish calendar), you probably are going to be at a reasonable level of service out there,” he said.

Karen Flatley, a member of the committee, said she doubted Chabad’s estimate that about 100 people at most would use the synagogue at a time.

“We know that the intensity of use in the first few years will be less, but you don’t build a 17,000-square-foot temple/community center to accommodate a few people,” Flatley said.

“The reality is, this is a 100-seat sanctuary, and from time to time, more people will attend,” Shansky said, adding that the site will probably attract large crowds only a few days a year.

The public hearing will likely be continued to a later date, at which members of the public will be able to make statements for or against the proposal.

Cassella said that, in considering regulating a religious institution, the Planning and Zoning Commission can deny the application as long as the decision is based on “neutral policies of general application.”

“A special permit is a privilege and it’s not a right,” Cassella said. “They are seeking approval from you (the Planning and Zoning Commission) to put something on this property that is not allowed as of right.”

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