OY VEY! Opponents of Guilford synagogue file lawsuit

Friday, January 30, 2009 1:42 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Two Goose Lane residents are suing the Planning and Zoning Commission over its December approval of a plan to build a synagogue and day care center next to their homes.

The lawsuit says that the commission “acted illegally, arbitrarily and in abuse of the discretion vested in it” in approving Chabad of the Shoreline’s application for a religious center at 181 Goose Lane.

The plaintiffs, Donna Criscenzo and Sherrye McDonald, whose homes are next door to the Chabad property, claim in the suit that the commission lacked evidence that the synagogue would not cause undue traffic problems or adversely affect nearby property values.

“Our feeling was that the case was pretty self-evident (and) that the data was there for us to win,” Criscenzo said. “The application should have been denied on the grounds of the criteria of impact on the neighbors, on quality of life and on harmony, and on property devaluation that will likely occur from having a commercial or a nonresidential high-intensity use.”

During the hearing process, the applicants and the Committee to Save Goose Lane, a group opposing the construction, both hired experts to testify about traffic and housing values.

Town Counsel Charles Andres said the town will prepare transcripts of the more than 20 hours of public hearings.

“It’s an appeal based on the record,” he said. “The judge doesn’t redo the application, but it’s simply reviewing the decision to see whether it’s supported by the evidence.”

Andres said he would wait until the plaintiffs have filed further documentation in the case before commenting on the specific complaints.

Marjorie Shansky, attorney for Chabad of the Shoreline, which is also named as a defendant in the suit, declined to comment on it.

The Planning and Zoning Commission by a 4-3 vote Dec. 17 approved Chabad of the Shoreline’s plan for a 13,700-square-foot building, following months of public hearings that drew hundreds of people. The commission granted the group a special permit, which is required for a religious facility in any zone.

To get a special permit, the applicant must show that the new use will be in harmony with the neighborhood and the town, and will not impair adjacent home values; the building will have adequate fire access; additional traffic will not cause undue hazards or congestion; the lot is large enough for the building and sanitary facilities, and the architectural design does not conflict with nearby properties.

The commission’s approval contained 12 conditions, including a 150-person limit on the building’s occupancy, except for 10 days a year when 200 occupants are permitted.

One of the lawsuit’s claims is that the maximum occupancy condition is unenforceable and is an “unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of religion and establishment of religion under the U.S. Constitution, First Amendment.”

The suit also says that Chabad’s plans do not include enough on-site parking spots and that the organization should not have been allowed to amend its plans in the middle of the public hearings.

The plaintiffs are seeking a reversal of the approval. The suit was filed Jan. 22 in Superior Court in New Haven, and no hearings have been scheduled.

Criscenzo and McDonald also filed a lawsuit last year, saying that Chabad of the Shoreline’s proposal violated a covenant that was included in the deed to the property when it was sold in the 1950s. That suit, in which the plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction against construction, is pending in Superior Court.

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