March 25, 2002

Judge Richard Gebelein promised to rule soon on whether Chabad of Delaware and its spiritual leader, Rabbi Chuni Vogel, can proceed to enlarge an existing house into a synagogue and 'enrichment center' for highly observant Orthodox Jews.

The project has been the nub of a frequently emotional community controversy since Vogel purchased the property on Silverside Road across from Green Acres in 1999. Residents of other nearby developments and their civic associations maintain it would change the character of the neighborhood.

At a Superior Court hearing on Mar. 22, Chabad's lawyer, David Margules, stated that would not be the case and argued that New Castle County Council joined counterparts elsewhere in determining that houses of worship are appropriate in residential areas when it enacted the Unified Development Code. Vogel has conducted services and hosted other religious activities in his nearby home in Green Acres for about 15 years.

Margules further argued that the rabbi and congregation have "made every conceivable effort to accommodate the neighbors" and allay their fears.

Gebelein has not actually been asked to directly settle the controversy. The civil suit before him seeks instead to overturn a county Board of Adjustment decision last August which granted five of six requested variances from the land use code. The board, in effect, said it was all right for Chabad to use a portion of adjacent land it will lease from Conectiv Power to fulfill some of the code requirements.

The suit was brought by Bernard Dempsey, vice president of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred and the council itself on behalf of member civic associations in the area.

In asking for a prompt ruling in the lawsuit, Margules told Gebelein that Chabad has raised about $1 million of the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million the expansion will cost and a pledge of an additional substantial contribution is conditioned upon the project's moving forward by the end of this year.

Edward Danberg, attorney for the suing parties, said the the adjustment board erred in not rejecting the variances request on the grounds that Vogel and Chabad had brought the hardship to be corrected upon themselves by proceeding with the purchase of their property knowing that it did not meet the land-use requirements for the use they intended to make of it.

Also, he said, Conectiv did not have any hardship related to use of the portion of its property that the board agreed to include as part of the synagogue petition. The utility company property is part of the right-of-way for a high-tension power line strung along a line of tall poles.

Danberg argued that a house of worship is not a right granted by the development code but a "special use permitted only when a property is in compliance with the code." In this case, he said, variances are necessary to deal with five places where it is not in compliance with the code's set-back requirements.

Neither lawyer called any witnesses during the hearing, thus avoiding a repeat of the emotional exchange, pro and con the project, which occurred when the adjustment board considered the issue.

2002. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: Adjustment board blesses synagogue proposal
Visit Chabad of Delaware's Web site

Visit the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred Web site


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