Neighbor vs. neighbor

There’s nothing quite like a dispute over land use to bring out the passions of Greenwich residents, is there?

So we find ourselves watching a debate emerge over the potential use of property on Orchard Street for the new home of Greenwich Reform Synagogue. Neighbors are crying foul over the plan, saying a structure like this in a residential area could hurt the overall area through extra traffic and the kind of falling domino effect that development brings. And leaders of the congregation are saying those concerns are understood but not accurate because the impact will be minimal.

Both sides can’t be right. So what’s to be done? The Planning and Zoning Commission is starting out the approval process, and this gives every sign of a drawn-out and expensive effort for both sides.

The most important thing is for this fight not to become personal. That can be a tall order when people feel the character of their neighborhood is being threatened or when people feel the free and open expression of their religion is being hindered. And since both can be part of the mix here, it has the potential to become a lengthy and ugly fight. That will not serve either the neighbors or the congregation members well, and pitting residents against each other will do no one any good.

This is a dispute that must be about what the Planning and Zoning Commission and other town land use agencies will be focused on: Does this structure belong in a residential neighborhood? The Post doesn’t present itself as any kind of expert in the intricacies of zoning law, and lawyers on both sides will be paid handsomely to tell all of us why this will be both the best thing to ever happen to Orchard Street and the worst.

But on the face of it, this project should give people a great deal of pause. As with the proposed Tollgate structure earlier this year that couldn’t get past the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, there is justifiable concern over the impact a structure like this would have in a residential neighborhood. Now, no one should argue that the Greenwich Reform Synagogue would have anywhere close to the same potential disruption as a huge structure of senior housing would have had, but many of the same concerns exist.

The neighbors have many reasons to oppose this, and they make a good case. The Post has many doubts that this is the right place for the synagogue, but it’s important that we hear a full presentation first. Without a design or any kind of specifics about the size and scope of the proposed synagogue it’s hard to judge what is and isn’t right. To judge it based on rumor or speculation and reject it without facts would be as big a mistake as trying to push the project through without a chance for the neighbors to have their say.

That’s why it’s so important for people to remain calm on this issue. The town has a long, detailed land use approval process for a reason. In comments to the neighbors, Selectman Drew Marzullo made two good points. The first is that ultimately this is a project that will go forth or be stopped based on the law and town regulations. The second is that there must be an ongoing and civil dialogue between the neighbors and the synagogue.

There are no bad guys here. Just two sides that want something. The Post is hopeful that a resolution can be worked out that will serve everyone’s interests, as divergent as they may seem. Cool, rational heads over this are a necessity, because seeing the residents of Orchard Street go to war with the congregants of Greenwich Reform Synagogue, when both sides are full of outstanding town residents, can only lead to unneeded pain.

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