end of the marathon session on Aug. 9, Chabad's lawyer, Lisa
Goodman, withdrew the most contentious of six variance requests
and the board approved the others by a single four-to-one vote
during a 20-minute business meeting. Jim Hardman, the only board
member who sat silent during the entire hearing while the others
questioned most of those who testified, voted against granting
He said he did so in support of community interests.
the dispute -- and, ironically, the point which ultimately
decided it -- was the fact that Conectiv, the power utility
company, apparently has agreed to lease Chabad sufficient land
under its regional electricity transmission line to provide
space for the required parking lot for a nominal $1 a year. The
company's property is adjacent to the Chabad property and
treating the two parcels as one provides sufficient space to
bring the project within development code standards in most
respects. No lease agreement was presented at the hearing nor
did anyone from Conectiv testify, so the approvals were
conditioned on the organization's obtaining an agreement which
gives it long-term use of the Conectiv land.
association representing the combined communities of Westwood,
Westwood Manor and Forwood and the Windybush Civic Association
opposed the variances, basing their argument largely on the
claim that Chabad's
property is too small for the intended use and its project will
change the basic character of the neighborhood. Those groups
were backed by the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine
Hundred which also took a stand in opposition. Both sides
entered numerous letters, petitions and statements into the
Acres Civic Association supported the project, saying that
Chabad and its spiritual leader, Rabbi Chuni Vogel, have been a
good neighbor during the 14 years that he and his family have lived in that
community. Until now, Chabad has functioned mostly in the Vogel
home while using venues such as the Jewish Community Center for
major events and activities. The Vogels will continue to live in
their present house, which is 620 feet in a straight line across
Silverside Road from the synagogue site.
testified that Chabad has a small congregation with an average
attendance of between 20 and 30 people at Sabbath services on
Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings. The number
increases to about 50 on major holydays and for outside
speakers, he said. Although he said it does not require any
particular degree of observance, Chabad's mission is such that it
generally attracts highly observant Jews and therefore does not
expect significant growth, although outreach is a part of its
described Chabad, an international movement, as one "dedicated
to strengthening Jewish observance and Jewish identity" through
worship and educational activities. Its synagogue is to be known
as Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center.
residents of the area testified that they bought homes in Green
Acres and nearby communities largely because that put them
within a Sabbath walk of a place of worship. Jewish law does not
permit driving a motor vehicle on the Sabbath and restricts
the distance a worshiper is permitted to walk. The Sabbath lasts
from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday.
Chris Koyste pointed out that the adjustment board is bound to
support the spirit as well as the letter of the development
code. In that regard, he said, liberal provisions for the
location of houses of worship in residential areas indicate that
County Council has made a conscious decision that they are
beneficial to a community. The only caveat is that they be
located so that their access is from main roads.
other hand, he said, the code is silent on whether to allow the
combination of separate properties to meet its requirements.
That question becomes more dicey when the combination is
effected by lease without a change in ownership, he added. This
apparently is the first case in which the board endorsed the
idea of accepting lease arrangements.
Lavelle said the regional civic council's executive and zoning
committees voted to oppose the project partly because Conectiv
officials rejected an invitation to come and explain the
company's position in agreeing to "combine property to create a
tenuously developable property." The local civic
association people also said Conectiv refused to talk with them.
the objectors were careful to stress that their objections were
not based on disapproval of the religious mission of the
organization nor to the conduct of Jewish activities in the
Rich Przywara provided the most succinct summary of the opposing
viewpoint when he said that the mile of Silverside Road between
Veale Road and Interstate 95 is totally residential, although
bounded by commercial zones in the Graylyn-Branmar and Carr Road
areas. "A mile without any [non-residential] development is
unusual in this area and this (the synagogue) would change the
entire character of that stretch of road. What neighbors are
saying is leave this a residential area," he said.
Pryde, immediate past president of the Westwood Civic
Association, said the synagogue would be "commercial appearing
[and] lack the green lawn and trees that characterize our
are not minor variances but major changes," said Albert Lara,
long-time owner of an adjacent property. "Synagogues, churches
and schools may be built in residential areas, but minimum
standards should be observed."
others charged that the synagogue and its special events will
attract a considerable amount of traffic to the area. Moreover,
Pryde said, there are sites elsewhere along Silverside
Road that might be more suitable and large enough to better
accommodate a congregation. But, she added, "there are some
churches up on Silverside where the neighbors are complaining."
requires a ratio of parking spaces to either functional area of
a building or the number of permanent seats. Chabad is proposing
slightly more than the number of spaces required. Under
the original plan presented at the hearing, that would require
rather significant encroachment into the buffer zone protecting
Perkins Run, a small stream.
Butler, of Delaware Nature Society, objected to granting that
variance without reference to an environmental impact study. She
said the buffer should receive total protection and that even
minor intrusions add up to major problems. "It's the cumulative
effect of a little bit here and a little bit there that we are
concerned about," she said.
she added, "why are they asking a parking variance if everybody
in the congregation walks to services?"
for that variance was the one that Goodman withdrew. She said
Chabad will scale down a proposed turnaround in the approach to
the main entrance to permit construction of the parking lot
without encroachment. The house which presently stands on the
property does encroach and the board agreed to a variance to
permit that to continue. Koyste said the amount of that
encroachment is minimal and it is an existing condition.
trees in the area and contributing the potential flooding of the
stream were major issues voiced at the hearing. Vogel, Goodman
and their consultant Jerome Heissler testified that only the
minimum number of trees would be removed and an underground
stormwater management system would, in Heissler's words, result
in "making the [flooding] problem no worse than it is now and
probably some improvement."
dispute has been pending since Chabad took an option om the
property in 1998 and bought it a year later. Vogel said that it
was decided to seek a separate location for the organization's
activity because a synagogue would be a more suitable setting
and would end disruptions to the family life of himself, his
wife and eight children.
proposal actually seeks to build a 6,000 square foot one-story
addition to the existing house. The new area is to be divided
into a sanctuary, a social hall with kitchen, and a reception
area. The house will continue to used for office space and as a
residence for rabbinical interns who work with the congregation.
Goodman contended that her client has made numerous changes in
its plans to accommodate objections raised by the community, the
civic association people claimed the organization has been less
than forthcoming and consistent in describing its intentions.
no guarantee what is going to be built. They could come back and
want to add a second story or another 1,000 [square] feet to
what is already gross overdevelopment," said resident Thomas
Dempsey, who represented the Windybush Civic Association, said
that it is "in the nature of churches" to seek to expand and
that the proposed project already is of such a size that it will
"produce more traffic and cause more accidents on the dangerous
curve" which is nearby on Silverside Road.
in the approval process is for Chabad to enter into the
Department of Land Use's subdivision approval process. That
requires firm, rather than the existing conceptual, plans. Once
these plans are demonstrated to meet the technical requirements
of the code, construction can proceed. No timetable for that has yet been
addition to Green Acres Civic Association support, Vogel and his
endorsements from several immediate neighbors in that
development. "It's a privilege to have Chabad in my community.
It teaches our children good morals and traditions which we
[adults] have fallen away from," said Jonnie Elfman.
Plerhoples, who lives behind the Vogels and identified her
family as Presbyterian, said she was unaware until recently that
there have been weddings and bar mitzvahs in the Vogels' house.
"Their activities are all low-key. The most we've ever heard
coming from there is some soft chanting. The Vogels are
wonderful neighbors. Observant Jews make good friends and
neighbors," she said.
"As a Christian, I am happy to see
another group that worships the same God that I do," added Tom Gaynor.