Lingering resentment

The fight over the placement of a new Greenwich Reform Synagogue is technically not over yet, but at this point it’s really starting to feel as though it is.

A settlement was reached last week in the synagogue’s lawsuit against the town that now allows the development of vacant property on Orchard Street into a house of worship. Under the settlement, the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals will allow the project to go forward in exchange for modifications to the proposed development and the synagogue will drop the federal lawsuit claiming that discrimination led to the board’s initial denial of a key approval.

While neighbors on Orchard Street and the surrounding area still have pending lawsuits of their own attempting to stop the development, it seems likely now that nothing will stop this project. Passions are raised on both sides, to put it mildly, but what has to take precedence here is what the law allows. If there’s no legal restriction to the synagogue being built there, then it will be built.

It would be a mistake to pretend to be a legal expert, but to the layman the options to oppose the synagogue are dwindling and this is an exhausting and expensive fight for both sides. It’s becoming inevitable and it is hoped that both sides can now use that as a basis to start working together.

What’s most unfortunate about this is that there will be lingering resentment. Whenever there’s a dispute when both sides strongly want something, someone is going to end up unhappy, and the fact that this involves building a house of worship makes it more intense. Even though this fight is not about religion, but rather land development, that’s exactly what’s been dragged into it by the circumstances, and that’s sad to see. The neighbors are not fighting the development because it’s a synagogue, and even a whisper of a suggestion of anti-Semitism remains irresponsible and unfounded.

Filing the lawsuit to force the hand of the town in this case was an understandable tactic from the synagogue and its attorneys, and it proved to be a successful one. It’s not the first time hardball tactics have been employed in a land use dispute and it certainly won’t be the last. But there was never any evidence that the town had discriminated against the congregation. Accusations of anti-Semitism in Greenwich should not be taken lightly, nor should they be made casually.

The hope is now that both sides can come together and at least reach some kind of unofficial understanding. It won’t be easy. Residents have turned against each other in this town and friendships have been shattered. That’s what is sad about this whole saga. Both sides have a case to be made. The Greenwich Reform Synagogue wants a permanent home where it can worship and come together as a Jewish community. The neighbors do not want to see a residential neighborhood disrupted by construction, and traffic and flooding concerns are valid.

This is not an easy situation — there is merit to both sides. But soon it may all be moot as the project proceeds. That’s why this time is critical. It’s time for the rancor to stop. If the synagogue is going to be built, then both sides must be good neighbors. They’re going to be together for a long time and they need to learn to live together in tolerance, if not harmony.

Perhaps it’s not too late. But now is the time for it to happen.

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