Chabad of the Shoreline synagogue plan stirs more emotion

Shore Line Times, Connecticut/November 13, 2008

Guilford - The ugly charge of anti-Semitism surfaced at the third continued public hearing last week on the application by Chabad of the Shoreline to build a synagogue at 181 Goose Lane.

The charge from several people favoring the synagogue that anti-Semitism was part of opposition to its construction was strongly denied by neighbors who have fought fiercely to convince the Planning and Zoning Commission to reject it.

They have based their opposition, led by Dr. Donna Criscenzo of 199 Goose Lane - who operates her medical practice on the second floor of her home - on their contention that the synagogue and day care center would change the quality of life in their neighborhood.

They argue it would cause serious traffic and noise problems and is not an appropriate use for a residential parcel only l.3 acres in size.

Addressing some of the opposition's objections, Chabad attorney Marjorie Shansky proposed changes in the synagogue plan, reducing its size from 17,700 to 13,700 square feet and cutting the capacity of the social hall from 100 to 54.

But opponents - many of them highly emotional - said the changes did not alter the fact that Chabad's insistence that no more than 100 people at a time would attend its various religious events was an empty promise unlikely to be kept.

In a letter to the Shore Line Times, Criscenzo, who feels her practice would be threatened by the synagogue right next to her house, said reducing the width of the proposed building by 12 feet "does little to change its perception from the street. It remains 36 feet high on its elevated spot.

"The enlarged playground remains as close to the street and highway interchange. The width of the social hall/sanctuary is unchanged, capable of occupancy of 300 or more. The outdoor pavilion, abutting private yards, holds the same capacity as the social hall and sanctuary combined.

"We are told it will rarely be used. Interestingly, the maximum use figures have been increased at each meeting from 80 to now 200."

She said this has been done without regard to Rabbi Yaffe's previous public promise that he would rent another site for groups greater than 120.

The proposed building, she said, does not even meet minimum standards for a commercial building abutting a residence. Guilford's zoning regulations, she added, require a minimum setback of 20 feet, absent any parking or driveway. The driveway for Chabad is only 13 feet from her home - 32 feet from the master bedroom, she said.

"As for the requirements for a special permit, we have evidence and precedent enough to show that these are unmet. We pay dearly to live in Guilford and expect our commissioners to protect us within the spirit of the law."

Chabad Rabbi Yossi Yaffe has consistently contested all of Criscenzo's claims and insists the synagogue - located near the Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center and right across the street from an industrial park - would not change the character of the neighborhood at all and would actually enrich it.

Religious institutions are permitted in all Guilford zones provided they meet special permit requirements. Yaffe and Shansky maintain their amended application does so.

Criscenzo and her neighbors say it does not.

Chabad is a Hasidic Jewish sect with branches all over the world. Chabad of the Shoreline is currently operating out of a Branford office.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a fourth continuation of the public hearing - which will be limited to comments on changes in the Chabad application - on Nov. 19.

According to Town Planner George Kral, the PZC will almost certainly not vote to approve or reject the application until the following meeting on Dec. 3.

Criscenzo has said she and her group will appeal the decision if it goes against them, but added last week: "We have made a strong case and are hoping that will not be necessary."

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