Neighbors blast proposed synagogue settlement as selectmen prepare to weigh in on Thursday

A tentative settlement has been reached between the Greenwich Reform Synagogue and the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, but the Board of Selectmen has yet to weigh in on it and will do so on Thursday.

Currently the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to be briefed on the proposed settlement at its Thursday, Oct. 2 meeting in executive session. However Selectman Drew Marzullo said Tuesday night that he wanted the discussion to take place in open session so that people could have their chance to weigh in on it publicly. While the settlement has been agreed to in principle by the board and the synagogue, neighbors are infuriated by it and are likely to turn out in force to speak against it at both the selectmen meeting at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room and the 6 p.m. Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, both of which are on Oct. 2.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will go into executive session at 6 p.m. to discuss the proposed settlement but are then scheduled to return to public session at 7 p.m. to discuss it. The Board of Selectmen also have the discussion scheduled for executive session but would have to return to public session to have any vote. Mr. Marzullo has said he would vote against going into executive session for the discussion and that it should be done completely in public instead.

This stems from the ZBA denying a special exception that the Greenwich Reform Synagogue was seeking for its plan to build a new synagogue on Orchard Street by a two to two margin with one abstention. That spurred the synagogue to file suit against the town in the United States District Court for Connecticut, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and claiming they had been unfairly discriminated against. As part of its suit, the synagogue said that the ZBA had approved churches in several residential neighborhoods throughout town.

Under the proposed settlement, the ZBA would within 10 days after the agreement becomes official issue the special exception and modifications would be made to the plan. The number of parking spaces at the proposed synagogue would be increased to 52 from 46 including two handicapped spaces, the driveway would be shifted from the southern portion of the property to the northern portion and the overall size of the proposed building would be reduced by approximately 2,100 cubic feet. The synagogue will also withdraw its suit against the town as part of the settlement.

Opponents of the synagogue are infuriated by the tentative agreement, with some even saying that the town had “sold them out.” But the Board of Selectmen has not had a chance to speak on this and Mr. Marzullo stressed on Tuesday night that nothing had been approved yet. Selectman David Theis has previously recused himself from these discussions due to his previously stated objections to the project and it is unclear if he will participate on Thursday, meaning Mr. Marzullo may be facing off one on one with First Selectman Peter Tesei on this.

The advocacy group Cos Cob Families Fighting for Residential Rights (CCFFRR) sent out several email blasts in recent days urging people to speak out against the proposed settlement by emailing the selectmen and members of the Representative Town Meeting’s District 8, which includes the property in question. Neighbors have objected to the project since it was first announced, citing worries about the impact of a house of worship in an otherwise completely residential neighborhood.

Sarah Littman, a Cos Cob resident with property close to the proposed Orchard Street location for the synagogue, said that neighbors were “blindsided” by the announcements about the meetings on Oct. 2 and that they felt they were purposely scheduled to deny Cos Cob residents “a chance to air our views and exercise our right to due process.” Ms. Littman asked if it was coincidence the ZBA meeting was beind held the same night as Cos Cob School’s open house, making it difficult for residents to turn out.

“Greenich Reform Synagogue claims that they want to ‘work with the neighbors,’ but it is exactly this kind of thing that we in Cos Cob have been dealing with from the very beginning and the kind of behavior that has increased, rather than mitigated, opposition to their development in the neighborhood,” Ms. Littman wrote in an e-mail to the selectmen that she shared with the Post on Wednesday morning. “I would remind you, as our selectmen, that you still represent Cos Cob. I can tell you from the emails and phone calls I have been receiving in the last 12 hours that there are many here who feel that you have failed dismally at that responsibility.”

Ms. Littman added that she didn’t feel moving the discussion to public session would be sufficient given how short a time frame this was being done on.

“With 48 hours notice how many working people realistically can make a 10 a.m. meeting?” Ms. Littman told the Post. “They don’t want public discussion. That’s the whole reason they did it this way.”

The neighbors have also filed suit against the town seeking to reverse previous land use agency approvals in favor of the synagogue. Mario Coppola, who is representing the neighbors in their case, could not be reached for immediate comment.

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