The final chapter in the battle of wills between Greenwich Reform Synagogue (GRS) and the Cos Cob neighbors who opposed a new house of worship at 92 Orchard Street may be complete.
A settlement was recently reached after three years of expensive and divisive wrangling. It started in 2012, when a group of neighbors learned that an institution purchased several small residential properties in Cos Cob and formed Cos Cob Families Fighting for Residential Rights (CCFFRR) to oppose construction of a 12,000 sq ft house of worship. The group hired attorney Mario Coppola. Over the course of three years, CCFFRR incurred nearly $100,000 in legal and expert fees.
A year ago, in July 2014, Greenwich’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied GRS application to build a house of worship.
Following the denial, GRS filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Greenwich violated its civil rights by discriminating against their proposed plan. They invoked a law known as “RLUIPA,” which stands for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. RLUIPA protects religious assemblies and institutions from zoning and historic landmark laws that substantially interfere with the assemblies’ and institutions’ religious exercise.
For their part, CCFFRR argued that that the proposed Orchard St location contains rock ledge and wetlands and has a history of flooding. They also argued that locating a 12,000 sq ft institution in a residential neighborhood would create safety hazards. The 92 Orchard St location is along a heavily trafficked, heavily pedestrian stretch that is near both Central Middle School (603 students) and Cos Cob Elementary School (388 students).
Immediate neighbors Barbara and Tony Lovallo said they had declined an offer of $800,000 for their home by GRS. They argued that their quality of life would be impacted.
In November 2014 GRS received unanimous approval by the Town Planning and Zoning Commission for its plans to build a new house of worship on Orchard St in Cos Cob, but with a number of conditions.*
After three years of court dates and public hearings before the Planning & Zoning commission, Architectural Review Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, a settlement was reached and construction will soon begin. The new GRS house of worship will be the second purpose-built synagogue in the Greenwich’s 375-year history.
Last December, after the P&Z gave its green light, Marc Abrams, Co-President of the Board of GRS stated in a release, “We went to great lengths to listen to everyone’s point of view and to address the concerns our neighbors had. Every reasonable request was included in the final site plan, and the result will be a modest and attractive building that will fit well with the neighborhood.”
The Synagogue will include a sanctuary, social hall, classrooms, and offices designed by Mark B. Thompson Associates LLC.
Planning & Zoning approval is contingent on a number conditions:
1. No concurrent use of the Sanctuary and Social Hall.
2. The capacity in the Social Hall should be limited to 138 people.
3. Pre and post blasting inspections shall include monitoring of radon levels.
4. Flagman shall be present at the construction entrance to insure sidewalk safety during deliveries of material.
5. During high holy days, a shuttle bus shall be provided to parking lots at the Greenwich Baptist Church and Central Middle School. Members of the Congregation, other than those who are elderly, will be directed to those parking lots.
6. The side porch shall have a curved canopy roof as shown on elevations approved by the Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission.
7. Several neighbors who have spoken at previous hearings requested no parking along Orchard Street. The Synagogue would support the neighbors’ request to the Board of Selectman to install no parking signs on Orchard Street.
8. The lighting will go off in the parking lot at 10:00 p.m., and it will be on four zones and only the parking zone will be lit as needed and the zones will start at the Synagogue and work out towards Orchard.
9. The curtains on the windows will be just on the glass surfaces on the south facade and on the north facade and they will close on the use of the light switch going to interior lights at all times of the day.
10. The noise measures for air-conditioning units, exterior generator and other mechanical units shall conform to the town noise regulation standards.
11. No day care facilities or nursery schools unless approvals for such uses are obtained.
12. No halfway houses or homeless shelters.
13. No permanent exterior loudspeakers.
14. No outdoor carnivals or fairs.
15. Leasing of the facility shall be limited to 501 c organizations or other established community groups.
16. Trash pickup shall be after 7:00 a.m. if a dumpster is used on the property.
17. The Fire Marshal shall confirm compliance with Occupancy Law.
18. There shall be no construction of a path or driveway from 22 Osee to 92 Orchard Street.
19. A Parking Management Plan shall be prepared and implemented during the high holy days and when it is anticipated that the site will be parked greater than 85% capacity such as during weddings, funerals, and bar/bat mitzvahs. The plan shall include the employment of a police officer for traffic control and the use of a shuttle bus to parking lots at the Greenwich Baptist Church, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Central Middle School. A written parking agreement shall be maintained with the Greenwich Baptist Church and Saint Catherine of Siena Church and approval shall be sought for the use of the Central Middle School parking lot on July 1st of each year.
20. The landscaping plan dated October 2, 2014 shall be implemented and maintained.
21. Reflective glass, solar ban 60, shall be installed for the large south facing windows containing a coating on the inner face of the outer piece of glass which will limit reflectivity. In the event this does not address sunlight reflection on the south side of the building, the Synagogue shall take further steps to reduce the reflective quality of the windows.
22. Any non-religious celebratory events where liquor will be served and there will be music or entertainment shall not take place after 11:00PM on Monday through Thursday and shall not take place after midnight on Friday through Sunday.
23. If the property is used in the future for a daycare facility, nursery school, preschool, day school or outdoor camp, any such use shall be limited to no more than 100 attendees/students plus a reasonable number of instructors, teachers or staff.