Opposition Grows to Synagogue's Plans to Build in Cos Cob [UPDATED]

The 150-family Greenwich Reform Synagogue congregation wants to set down roots in Cos Cob.


Update, Nov. 15, 6:55 p.m.:

Neighbors and Greenwich town officials are lining up in opposition to the Greenwich Reform Synagogue’s (GRS) plans to buy three parcels of Cos Cob land to build a synagogue, classroom space and other amenities.

“For someone who lives on the street, I am concerned for obvious reasons—traffic, safety, quality of life and the character of the neighborhood,” Greenwich Selectman Drew Marzullo told Greenwich Patch Thursday. “I reserve further comment until meeting with the synagogue.”

The synagogue has purchased one Orchard Street parcel and has plans to purchase a second on the street, along with a parcel on Osee Place, all of which are contiguous to As someone who lives on the street, I am concerned for obvious reasons—traffic, safety, quality of life and the character of the neighborhood,” Selectman Drew Marzullo one another and would form an L-shaped piece of land when combined. That land is where the GRS wants to build a 20,000 square foot facility with worship, classroom and kitchen space, along with 100 parking spaces.

The parcel at 92 Orchard St. is owned by former Greenwich Tax Collector Lou Caravella, known as the ‘Mayor of Cos Cob.’ The owner of the 22 Osee Pl. is his son Randy Caravella.

Robert Birnbaum, the head of the GRS’s board, has said the organization notified nearby residents and wants to meet with them after Thanksgiving.

“It’s not against religion but about the quality of life,” said Selectman David Theis, who lives about a half-mile away on Sinoway Road in Cos Cob. “People take a lot of pride in t his neighborhood. I feel it is not an appropriate use for a non-residential purpose to encroach upon a very traditional neighborhood.” He also said there are issues with wetlands and a high concentration of impervious surfaces in the area.

"There is too much development and pavement in the area that affects storm runoff," Theis said.

Drika Constantino, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 2000 with her husband who’s a lifelong neighborhood resident, said, “I think we feel really invested in the neighborhood and Cos Cob and this is something that’s important to us.” She added, “Our feeling is that it’s much too large and commercial a project to be in that location.”

Constantino added she’s concerned about the impact the project will have on the neighborhing Pomerance wildlife sanctuary. “It’s a wildlife sanctuary. To have a parking lot there …to have that large of a building there is totally out of character for the neighborhood.”

Comments posted to the original Patch story show that “200 residents”  have banded together and that they are gathering signatures for a petition opposing the project. Residents plan to meet Saturday to discuss the project.

Constantino  said, “I think it’s a good idea in the wrong place.”

Original story, Nov. 15, 5:59 a.m.

Greenwich Reform Synagogue has plans to purchase three parcels of land in the Orchard Street area of Cos Cob to establish a permanent home for the 150-family congregation.

The synagogue's chairman of the board of directors, Robert Birnbaum, told Greenwich Patch Wednesday that Greenwich Reform Synagogue (GRS) wants to establish a house of worship in Cos Cob after years of renting space in various locations in town. Currently, the congregation uses space at the First Congregational Church of Old Greenwich and classroom space for its school at the Stanwich School on Old Church Road.

Birnbaum said GRS already has purchased 92 Orchard St. in Cos Cob and hope to close on the purchases of 96 Orchard and 22 Osee Pl. by year's end. The combined lots would give the synagogue about 2 acres of land. The synagogue paid $900,000 for the 92 Orchard St., according to records filed Oct. 2 in the Greenwich Tax Assessor's office.

The synagogue has been seeking a permanent location after it sold its 11.5 acre campus on Stanwich Road last March to the private Stanwich School which is expanding its facilities.

Birnbaum said the congregation will be seeking proposals from architects on the design of the facility that will include a sanctuary, classrooms and meeting space. He said the building committee has begun interviewing architectural firms to design the plans and expects it will take about six months before the documents and an application for planning and zoning approvals are submitted to the town.

The congregation has sent a letter to neighbors informing them of the pending plans.


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"We understand that these changes may come as a surprise to you, and we are extremely sensitive to that We pride ourselves on being an inclusive group, and we are available to hear your feedback and perspective," according to the letter. "We will take all of your input very seriously, and it is our sincere hope and intent that our new building will add additional value to what we know is a close-knit, terrific neighborhood."

After sending that letter, "We have had many emails and phone calls with neighbors" Birnbaum said. "Some were seeking information, some expressing support, some expressing concerns…there’s a group of neighbors who have concerns we will be meeting with them to discuss it with them after Thanksgiving."

According to the GRS website the facility will be approximately 20,000 square feet of usable space above ground and require parking for  about 100 cars. Birnbaum said it is premature to say how much the project will cost but estimates range between $6 and $8 million. However, the congregation has the financial resources from the sale of its Stanwich Road campus.

*The time stamp of this story has been updated for layout purposes.

BW November 16, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Really, I have?? Yes, I absolutely will introduce myself. Also- if you couldn’t build a sufficiently sized facility why would you encumber this beautiful residential lot with something that doesn’t work? I’m just so confused. Why would you do that to our neighborhood? Why?
JDB121 November 16, 2012 at 09:58 PM
I understand you are upset. Perhaps there is a solution or a compromise? I'm not sure- but I believe for every problem there's a solution and I'm certain if everyone (including you and I) work together there's a way to make everyone happy. I apologized before for saying anything upsetting. I guess I become very defensive when people make such bold, antisemitic remarks in this day and age. Not to mention what is going on in the rest of the middle east-- it's downright scary--for all sides. Someone said- it wasn't good enough-- the apology. Hopefully you'll accept this apology. We should all be able to work together to make our entire community happy.
EPM November 16, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Jennifer, you might want to stop while you're somewhat ahead. I can tell you with 110% accuracy that GRS chose to sell and then went looking for another place to build. Chosing to do smack in the middle of a neighborhood wasn't the way to go.
JDB121 November 16, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I know they sold it. I never suggested that they didn't. They want a place of their own, not on Stanwich School property. They were on Stanwich for 20 years- and isn't Stanwich a neighborhood as well?? Save it for tomorrow.
JDB121 November 16, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I can't wait to read your lines aloud tomorrow in front of Tesei. You are truly in a class by yourself... and when they build you'll have to accept it. Facts are- they have the right to build or they never would've bought the property. The very people you elected into office a week ago have already said as much.
Barbara Heins (Editor) November 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM
OK folks—here's your 2-minute warning! I do appreciate all of your interest in this Greenwich Patch story. But keep in mind, the comment stream on stories is meant for community discussions of issues— discussions that do not degenerate into anything that can be construed as or is outright mean-spirited, name-calling, or wishing ill on others (such as the case with OSR and that's why I've deleted your comment). Please take away this thought that was included in one of the many posts by Jennifer (and yes, I read every comment!) : "I believe for every problem there's a solution and I'm certain if everyone (including you and I) work together there's a way to make everyone happy." This is what this platform is designed for. If comments follow this theme, the comment stream will remain open. If not, I will close it. If you would like to post more extensive salient arguments/discussions on this issue, you also may submit a letter to the editor. Email it to: barbara.heins@patch.com
dtwx November 17, 2012 at 12:11 AM
What I don't understand is why would GRS invest $2.5million in three oddly disjointed residential properties *before* getting *any* buy-in from the neighborhood or approval from Wetlands or Planning and Zoning? If this project gets rejected, GRS is going to be left holding the bag on these three properties. Sure, 22 Osee Place and 92 Orchard could be resold (after paying sales commissions of course), but who's going to buy that back lot? When this is all over, GRS will own a $1million patch of land they can't do anything with (or sell). Ignoring all the very real issues in the above discussion, this just seems like a really bad financial decision on GRS's part. You'd think GRS would get full approval *before* buying up the land. Is GRS now in the real-estate speculation business? And in the end, it doesn't take very long to figure out who the real winners are in this scenario.
SUV Sister November 17, 2012 at 01:19 AM
I think Jennifer should stop accusing the commenters of anti-semitism, when they are only questioning the size and use of this large proposed building in a residential neighborhood.
JDB121 November 17, 2012 at 01:31 AM
This i is to SUV SISTER: READ THE ABOVE POST FROM HD--THERE WITHIN LIES YOUR ANSWER BRUTALLY HONEST AND TOTALLY DISGUSTING- ANTI-SEMITISM AT IT'S BEST. So, for anyone who thought the Temple factor doesn't play a role- you are seriously wrong- read HD's latest comment.
Sarah Darer Littman November 17, 2012 at 01:36 AM
With all due respect, Jennifer, do you not think you brought the Israel/Palestinian issue into this totally unnecessarily yourself when you wrote this: "Instead of arguing - think about the 1 million Israeli's living in SHELTERS for fear of their lives. That would be the equivalent of all of NYC and LA living in Shelters. It will make you realize how very SMALL your problems are." I have been thinking of my relatives in Israel non-stop. But that has nothing to do with my opposition to the siting of the synagogue on this site. And YOU were the one who brought ISRAEL into this conversation. Why? It has nothing to do with planning and zoning. You are claiming victim when you are the one who are belittling others.
SUV Sister November 17, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Jennifer, I had not seen HD's latest comment when I wrote my own -- I certainly do not support his/her views. But you had been accusing other commenters of anti-Jewish motives as early as 10:47 am this morning before HD posted anything.
HD November 17, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Please note that this is a continuation of my previous post. It is admittedly tangential, but not necessarily irrelevant given the religious "spin" the topic has been given by zealous proponents alleging anti-semitic discrimination. To them, Cos Cob is a haven for the progeny of Das Fuhrer. How absurdly incredulous can it get!
HD November 17, 2012 at 02:16 AM
The commentary needs to get back on track and not derail into a religious diatribe. It is, after all, a land-use/transportation issue that should be assessed by professionally qualified urban planners and not by alleged victims of anti-semitic discrimination. Ant argument to the contrary must be considered ill-conceived and predicated on inflated egos ... and we need all the helium we can get to fly the Macy's balloons in a few days!
HD November 17, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Nicole Crosby November 17, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Please delete this post. It's completely off-topic and inflammatory.
Nicole Crosby November 17, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Heads up: We are not going to back down on our opposition to a 20,000 sq ft. house of worship in our residential neighborhood in order to prove to that we're not anti-semitic. Several very vocal people are wasting their time with that argument. I happen to be half Jewish, but it shouldn't matter what my religious roots are. I find the accusations of anti-semitism to be a desperate strategy that will gain proponents of the project zero traction. Stick to the facts. People who resort to personal attacks generally don't have the facts to support their argument. A very important question has still not been answered: Why did GRS give up its 11.5 acres on Stanwich? That was more than enough property to build on and still give the neighbors plenty of a buffer. It was financially feasible as well, based on news reports that Stanwich would have funded the construction of a new synagogue.
Valleywood resident November 17, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Similar to many of the people who have posted on this thread, I am also Jewish and yet I oppose the development of this project. It would not matter if it was a church, doctor's office or restaurant, I do not believe a 20,000 sq foot building fits in with the feel of the neighborhood. Also, Jennifer, I am surprised at the very condescending, demeaning, and disparaging remarks made about the Cos Cob community and the ridiculous comparison to OG. I feel sorry for you that you have not been able to experience our community so I would like to invite you to the first annual Winter's Eve festival to be held on December 1 from 4-8 PM behind the Cos Cob firehouse. You can enjoy the CCS chorus and North Mianus School chorus singing and maybe, just maybe, you will experience the sense of community and caring that Cos Cob has to offer.
BW November 17, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Barbara-please either censor these posts or pull the link. We can't have random people like OSR and HD posting ridiculous comments. They clearly have a different agenda than we do. All we want to do is save our neighborhood, not start a religious war.
Anonymous November 17, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I'll tell you why they gave it up (I had a front-row seat to the proceedings): they wanted their OWN space. Originally, they were fine with sharing with Stanwich School, but they changed their minds. They would have signed contracts with Stanwich, then a new Board or a new member of the Board would get voted into GRS, and they'd renegotiate. It was endless. Finally, they said they wanted to sell the property to Stanwich and asked for a price well above what the contract said, and well above market (this is a couple of years ago, during the depths of the real estate crisis). After years of the back-and-forth, Stanwich finally said - that is just too much, it isn't what is specified in the contract YOU SIGNED. GRS decided to play hardball with a kids' school (great guys).and said - OK, fine - we are going to do affordable housing with our property then. The neighbors were horrified, GRS hadn't gotten approvals (they couldn't have done septic for a large development with the land they had, for instance), it was just a tactic. St. Agnes said they had lots of land they were willing to sell to Stanwich School, and just when that contract was about to be signed, here comes GRS and says "ok, we changed our minds again - you can buy it from us" and named a lower price. Hardball, with a kids' school.
Nicole Crosby November 17, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Don't pull the link. This thread contains a lot of valuable information and raises important issues for residents. We can't allow a few people to interfere with an open exchange of ideas and information. Readers can flag inappropriate posts. Don't punish everyone for the actions of a few.
Larry November 17, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Please do not pull or lock the thread. This is Democracy, warts and all. For what it's worth, I am a Jew, I live on Valleywood and my last temple was GRS. I think GRS is the best temple in Greenwich by far. But as I understand the project, I would not wish it to proceed.
BW November 17, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Agreed...agreed! Sorry about that poorly thought out request
SarahB November 18, 2012 at 01:04 AM
I live two blocks from the proposed site and I am not as concerned about traffic (although that does bother me) as I am with the prospect of the GRS getting variances to build on those lots in ways the Town would prohibit residents from doing. I would be shocked if 20,000 sqft structure and a parking lot managed to stay within the green area regulations the Town has put in place. If our neighbors can't create a stone patio behind a fence for two people to enjoy, then the GRS should be held to the same standards. And if they are really going to have as little traffic as they say, then it would be a travesty to lose a lot of green space just to have a paved lot and mega structure sit empty for so many days of the week.
Bernard Schneider November 18, 2012 at 04:06 AM
All this back and forth is unproductive and getting more so. People have strong and differing opinions. There is a process/procedure in place to deal with issues exactly like this, and that is Planning and Zoning, and the general process of Greenwich government. Make your arguments there, where it counts. Repeating the same points over and over again to others who don't see it your way is not going to convince them; it doesn't even seem to make you feel better. See you all at P&Z. Bernard Schneider
Rick Novakowski November 19, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Having trouble accessing this website.
BW November 19, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Just go to www.coscobneedsyou.com or email us at info@coscobneedsyou.com to be put on our distribution list
RRD November 20, 2012 at 03:01 AM
I would invite anyone who feels this is a good idea to come to Orchard st or Valleywood road or Osee place at dusk or as it turns dark. To increase traffic in an already cogested area is NOT safe. There is a blind spot on Orchard where there would be an entrance or exit to parking. In addition, if a car is parked on the street on Osee place it is difficult for another to pass (what would happen if there was an emergency). Valleywood is very busy with no sidewalks. I would hate to see someone get hurt. I think the town is opening itself up for more lawsuits
Gregory Edmundt Von Hess November 21, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Jennifer, Mindlessly lumping me into some sort of “anti-Semite hatred’ category simply b/c I suggest moving the Synagogue to a logistical traffic friendly area dilutes any level of credibility you attempt to position yourself as having in this discussion.
Gregory Edmundt Von Hess December 03, 2012 at 03:44 PM
To Jennifers point no-one complains about the Churches… They all have been there for well over 150+ years and are an iatrical part of the Old Greenwich fabric for 7 generations, so what’s there to complain about? Again to Jennifers point "OG being more temple friendly”...... Well, since she’s very adamant about getting her temple build put it on her street Sound Beach Ave since It won’t create any sort of traffic, noise, congestion etc I feel the corner of Beach and Shore road (where the brown shingled house is) would be a splendid little spot for it and conveniently placed in her backyard. Hey Jenn were all for it!
Concerned Citizen December 04, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Mr. Schneider: I have gained a lot of valuable information through the back and forth discussion on these blogs. There was very little useful information presented at the P&Z by the GRS lawyer. On the contrary, I encourage all citizens to make full use of our rights to free speech ..... And post, post, post away! And write to the P&Z if you are so inclined.


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