Monday’s P&Z briefing before the main event, Tuesday’s full P&Z meeting, featured a bit of a surprise about Chabad Lubavitch’s application at 270 Lake Ave.
Chabad was, before Monday’s briefing, the contract purchaser of the 16+ acre property from Carmel Academy.
Chabad is seeking a final site plan and special permit to modify existing conditions of an approved school use at the campus where they are operating a preschool with a lease that expires in July.
Existing permissions that date back to the 1980s limit the property’s educational use to grades 1 through 9.
Chabad wants to expand those grades to include pre school.
The 16+ acre property is owned by Carmel Academy, who closed their own school last year, but have leased to Chabad and the Japanese School, who plan to depart in March 2022.
The property has been home to private schools for a century. It is unique in that it is part of the private Rock Ridge Association.
Their attorney Jackie Kaufman said in previous meetings that the 100-year-old Rock Ridge had a right of first refusal on any the sale of the property.
Now there is a new contract purchaser.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said the new purchaser was a resident of Rock Ridge.
In an email after the briefing, Rabbi Yosi Deren said, “Chabad Lubavitch of Greenwich has learned that Carmel Academy has signed a contract to sell the property at 270 Lake Avenue to Alan Breed. We are speaking with our advisors, community partners, and supporters to evaluate alternatives in light of our prior agreements with Carmel. We remain focused on our goal of – G-d willing – establishing a permanent home for Jewish education in Greenwich, on this campus.”
Rock Ridge Association is situated at the base of the Lake Ave circle and includes 36 residential properties, plus two school campuses – the Eagle Hill School and the campus owned by Carmel.
Rock Ridge neighbors had complained about Chabad’s amplified music during day camp last summer.
Chabad’s Rabbi Yosi Deren and his wife Maryashie had explained that the amplified music reflected an increase in outdoor activities due to the pandemic.
And while P&Z chair Margarita Alban has repeatedly said Chabad’s future plans for the property were not relevant to the application, a letter to P&Z from Chabad’s attorney Tom Heagney dated Nov 4 said, “A synagogue may also be considered in the future.”
Neighbors have said they feared the plans would be less of a school than a community center and have expressed concerns about traffic.
Ms Alban said that if Chabad sought to locate a worship facility on Lake Ave, the federal RLUIPA law of 2000 would apply.
RLUIPA stands for The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. “Though the present approval does not allow it, that doesn’t mean they could not propose it in the future,” Alban said at a previous meeting.
Which brings the story back to Monday’s briefing.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said the Rock Ridge purchaser was exercising their right to first refusal on the property.
“Whatever approval you have runs with the land. But it is relevant because the new owner may have different ideas about what conditions are put on the property,” DeLuca said.
“So this new owner may not want a cap at 400 people. They may want to maintain the cap at 450 people. So now there is a twist to it,” she said. “There is one owner, Carmel Academy, and they have authorized Chabad to make an application to the commission.”
DeLuca said that even if there was a different contract purchaser, that would not necessarily be relevant to Chabad’s application.
She said there had been some conflicting information during the application process.
For example, she said initially the applicant said pre schoolers would meet off campus and be driven to school on buses. Later, she said the applicant said students would arrive by carpool.
She said she had asked the applicant to share with the commission all the conditions proposed and explain with supporting documentation how they would maintain compliance.
DeLuca said that for future success, conditions should be spelled out explicitly.
For example, she said, “There’s comments about a condition that there are no classes in the evenings on Saturdays or Sundays. But what is a class? And how is it different from a special event?”
Another example she gave concerned buses.
“When we say buses in this application process, to me, I think of a big yellow bus with a whole ton of kids sitting on it. …I’ve come to learn that the applicant thinks that a mini van is a van. I think of that as a car. We need to be very clear.”
“We need to be very clear about what that is, in fairness to the applicant,” she said. “That’s where we are – trying to get a clear set of rules that everyone, especially the commission, can be happy with and those rules can be supported with documentation.”
“It appears the applicant’s attorney, the new buyer’s attorney and Ms Kaufman (attorney for Rock Ridge Association) are all in conversation about conditions they can live with,” she added.
Ms Alban said she believed that conditions could be contingent on an expiration date, rather than run with the land.
A suggestion from Bob Barolak was for the amended conditions to have a sunset date.
“Let’s say you said these conditions apply only through July 2022, and then it expires, does the whole property revert to residential use at that time?” DeLuca asked. “If the special permit expires, what’s expiring? The entire special permit, which means the entire property reverts to underlying allowances, which would be residential use? Then you have a problem because you have institutional structures on the property that are not residential.”
“I do find that these conditions from the 80’s and 90 are not set up for success.They’re too vague,” DeLuca added.
Ms Alban said she hoped the attorneys would not digress to areas that are not part of the subject application.
She said the applicant had revised the proposed conditions since the last P&Z meeting, including reducing overall enrollment from 450 to 400, and expanding over time to include 8th grade instead of through 9th grade.
“They didn’t address the noise, which we talked to them about, and we are going to condition, which is no amplification outside, no bullhorns, no external PA systems,” Alban said. “That’s really the bulk of complaints.”
The application is on the Dec 21 P&Z meeting agenda. The meeting starts at 4:00pm (instead of 5:00pm).
“The other thing is we asked the applicant to work with the neighbors and I’m not seeing anything on that,” Alban said.
“Now that this new owner has come forth, it appears there might be some progress on that,” DeLuca said. “In fairness to Chabad, they need to know how they’re functioning and they want to comply and do the right thing, and they don’t know what those parameters are.”
Lake Ave Neighbors to Chabad: Follow the Rules Sept 30, 2021