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Friday, December 12, 2008

Deliberations Begin on Chabad

By Fay Abrahamsson, Courier Senior Staff Writer:

If an exit poll was conducted of the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) members as they departed the first day of deliberations on the Chabad’s application, the mood could only be described as favorable to the applicant.

That’s because as members tossed around opinions, arguments, and facts concerning the application, only one person appeared skeptical that the application met the requirements of a special permit.

In its first meeting held to deliberate the Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shoreline’s application for a special permit to build a 13,700 square foot house of worship and day care center at 181 Goose Lane, Chairman Shirley Girioni stressed that the decision can be based only on information received by the commission during the public hearings, which closed Nov. 19.

“No more discussion or emails can be done or letters can be read,” said Girioni.

The discussion regarding the Chabad’s application was informal as the members discussed the standards of a special permit. The PZC did not make a motion in favor or against the application and no vote was taken. A vote is likely at its next scheduled meeting, Dec. 17.

The location of the Chabad’s proposed synagogue is currently zoned residential. The property to the direct north is also zoned residential; the property to the direct south is zoned commercial.

Criteria of a special permit include such things as the proposed type, character, and size of the building should be in harmony with the neighborhood; that the building must have adequate access for fire protection; and that it will not create an undue traffic hazard or congestion. In addition, the lot must be of sufficient size for the use, the proposed building cannot be detrimental to the neighborhood or adjacent lots, and the design of the building cannot conflict with the architectural design and style of adjacent properties, among other criteria.

The PZC is allowed to impose as many conditions as it feels necessary should it grant a special permit in this case. For example, the Inland Wetlands Commission, in its approval of the construction of Guilford Commons on the “Rockpile,” listed more than 50 conditions.

Commission member David Grigsby questioned many of the applicant’s plans, including the level of use proposed for the synagogue and social hall.

“Are we in a position that we can enforce a limit of maximum occupancy?” he asked.
Town attorney Charles Andres said certain terms of use such as occupancy could be included as one of the conditions of approval.

Grigsby’s initial hesitancy regarding the amount of people using the facility, which the applicant said could reach 200, was apparent as he spoke about the possible impact of increased traffic and noise such a crowd could bring to the site.

“It is difficult to believe that there will be absolutely no impact on the property to the north,” said Grigsby.

Commission member Ray Bower agreed with Grigsby about an increase in traffic to the area, but noted that the PZC’s impartial traffic expert and the chief of police believe there would be no traffic issues.

Girioni said that she feels the applicant’s property “is an area of transition,” and that any impacts such as traffic and noise are already present.

“This lot is directly across the street from a major interstate,” said Girioni. “There are hospitals and doctors’ offices to the south, the largest industrial zone in Guilford across the street, and to the north, a residential home used for a doctor’s office and medical practice.”

PZC member Robert Richard agreed, voicing that the area is not strictly residential.

“If you drew an imaginary circle around the applicant’s site, you would find that it is mixed–a mixture of different zones,” he said.

The Guilford Planning & Zoning Commission may be prepared to render a decision on the Chabad’s application at its next meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Greene Community Center on Church Street.

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