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Cos Cob Neighborhood Unites Against Synagogue's Development Plan

Cos Cob Families Fighting for Residential Rights held its first meeting Tuesday night to discuss how they will prevent Greenwich Reform Synagogue from building new facilities in their residential neighborhood.

 

Cos Cob residents against the Greenwich Reform Synagogue’s (GRS) plans to buy three parcels of land in the neighborhood to build a synagogue, classroom space and other amenities, met at Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Company Tuesday evening to learn more about the process that the organization will go through to get approval from the Planning & Zoning Board and discuss ways to protect the quality of their tight-knit neighborhood.

Republican State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th), State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) and Selectman Drew Marzullo joined a full house at the meeting, which was organized by Cos Cob Families Fighting for Residential Rights, to show to their support.

Frantz told attendees that he only learned about the synagogue's plans Tuesday afternoon, but was confident that if residents worked together, they could preserve their beloved neighborhood.

"It's standing room only [in here], which shows that you care about your neighbors and that's a great thing," he said. "You are a tight-knit residential community that goes back generations...so there's lot worth fighting for and I believe that Planning & Zoning will be on your side."

Frantz advised residents to stay focused and organized, speak in a single voice and be prepared to fight for the next 18-24 months as GRS attempts to get its site plan approved. "Make sure you stay on it and hire the best lawyer," he said.

After group member John Timm outlined the steps GRS will take to get approval—starting with a request for a lot change at the next P&Z meeting on Nov. 27—residents began to explore the various actions the group could take next, including hiring a lawyer and possibly purchasing the land from GRS.

Camillo, who grew up in Cos Cob, likened the situation to his fight to keep cell phone towers out of residential neighborhoods. "We had a multi-pronged approach to it and we started early...We went [for] aesthetics, historical districts, fall zones—anything that we could fight with by law. We had to do our due diligence," he said.

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In addition to encouraging residents to sign a petition and attend the next P&Z meeting, members of Cos Cob Families Fighting for Residential Rights have been in contact with lawyers based both in Greenwich and in surrounding towns to discuss their options for preventing GRS from building their synagogue.

Committee member Sarah Darer Littman told attendees that most Greenwich-based lawyers are refusing to take the case because of "conflict of interest." Littman said she found it strange that the lawyer that represented her four years ago when former Greenwich Tax Collector Lou Caravalla previously tried to build three homes on her land is now representing GRS. She added that she is now in contact with a lawyer that is based in a nearby town, but has experience handling cases in Greenwich.

While most attendees were looking for any possible way to break the contract that will eventually allow GRS to purchase land at 22 Osee Place and 96 Orchard Street, a few felt that there was no concrete way to stop the organization from executing its plan and that the only option left would be for the residents to purchase the land themselves.

Marzullo, who currently resides on Orchard Street, said that the best approach—in addition to hiring a lawyer—would be to start a flow of communication between the residents and the synagogue's president and legal representative. "You have to bring it to them in dialogue and not necessarily two months from now," he said.

Marzullo added that he spoke with the GRS president prior to the meeting the fact that some residents feel the opposition towards the plan is based on anti-Semitic views. "The idea that this has anything to do with anti-Semitism is sickening to me and the president thinks that it has nothing to do with that whatsoever, so just be cognizant of that," he said.

RTM District 8 Member Christopher von Keyserling strongly encouraged residents to fight the plan instead of purchasing the land or letting the chips fall where they may.

"If you want to win, you have look at how the people who win do it," he said. "...I've been through hundreds of these cases... I can't tell you truthfully what's going to come out with it, it's either going to be a very fast solution or it's going to be a long, drawn out [fight] over a number of years...but this is a for-the-throat game and you're in a tough, tough fight against people who don't give a flying damn."

After the meeting, committee coordinator Tina Walsh told Patch that she felt the goal of the first meeting was accomplished. "It's not about my individual concern, it's not about anybody else's individual concern, it's when you put them all together and put them in a context of a neighborhood, that's what's really important," she said. "When it's all of the different concerns put together, it makes for a compelling case."

Peter F. Alexander November 21, 2012 at 11:26 AM
Planning by Zoning does not work. $ 50,000 has been set aside to "Plan" more paving for Route 1 by P&Z to cave to the SWRPA edicts. The fact that P&Z could declare Cos Cob as defined by the Strickland Brook Watershed as a 'Village District" would allow local residents to have a real say in the future. Otherwise it is just lawyers and "experts". Happy to help. This should be thought of as a subject way beyond the proposed land use gaining attention at the moment but a declaration we want a Town comprised of a series of Villages not a City with ......?
HD November 21, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Peter's makes a cogent point. Self-determination should remain an inalienable right and be appropriately preserved within the context of a general plan. Planning in Greenwich appears to remain out-of-sync with its constituency and effective planning principles and practice. That said, there is every reason to dismiss the vapid arguments decrying community sentiment and construction opposition as "anti-semitic." The oft-used, common refrain should be abrogated and not receive the press it always manages to strategically generate. The residents of Cos Cob are to be commended for their solidarity and resolve to not surrender to the will of zealots. Community values will triumph as a result.
Susan Capparelle November 21, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Just found out about this. More people need to know. Strongly opposed to this plan as a Cos Cob resident.
RZ November 22, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I have lived on Stanwich for 10 + years, a few hundred feet from both the Stanwich School and GRS and I can tell you they have been nothing but respectful neighbors. I have read what the President of GRS has written-- in which he clearly states they are never going to build a 20,000 sq ft. building or a 100 car parking lot. Orchard Street connects into Stanwich--and let's face it there won't be anymore traffic than there already is- as these people can use the same route they used to get to when GRS was on Stanwich. Downgrade the neighborhood? Since when does a religious building or a nursery school downgrade a neighborhood? Why do Cos Cob residents think they are different than any other part of Greenwich. You have Greenwich Country Day School in one of the most residential neighborhoods--and it is a HUGE campus. Not to mention the huge facility on Round Hill- a church, nursery school and gym facility all in one place. Good enough for those communities but not good enough for Cos Cob? Cos Cob residents ought to be ashamed of the way you are behaving. You are acting like kids fighting on a playground. Come together and find a way to make both parties happy. Otherwise, you are fighting a battle you could never win. And, I am not a Jew- but to HD above- your comment is about as anti-semitic as it comes. No wonder Jewish people in Cos Cob feel as though it simply isn't about the building.
Lana Ross November 22, 2012 at 03:42 AM
@ RZ. They are not going to build just one 20,000 sq ft building. Read their blog/RFP/site/proposal/news/interviews and see for yourself. It will be a 100 car parking lot, it will be a school and a "party" building and their religious facility and their nursery and school and all "modular expansions" (and I quote). We are talking "mall" with a religious undertake that everyone is trying to spin. Please kindly consider doing your homework first before calling 200+ people neighborhood kids. To me, GRS president and the followers look like infamous high school bullies: they want to wedge themselves somewhere they are not welcome just because they can and they are not listening, just keep pushing. Please read different sources, talk to different people before stating your one-sided opinion. Happy thanksgiving and be thankful you don't have to deal with this.
RZ November 22, 2012 at 03:50 AM
I did do my homework. THIS below is from the President of GRS--written in this very paper- days ago! Please- YOU do your homework. See Below. Happy THanksgiving to you as well. Click on the link Read carefully... For the Orchard Street property, the engineer who performed the study determined that we could legally and environmentally support about 20,000 square feet of floor area ratio (FAR) in a two story building. This does not mean we expect to build a structure this size, it simply represents a viable upper limit for this property and thus the guideline we used in our request for proposal to architects. Similarly, parking for 100 cars could also fit on this site with a building of the above size, but it is unlikely our needs will reach that level. Another important point is that even though the overall site includes a piece of property on Osee Place, we can assure those residents that there simply will be no exit or entry point for our congregation on Osee. Only Orchard will be used to access the site for members... Here's the entire article. http://greenwich.patch.com/articles/letter-synagogue-president-responds-to-critics-of-building-plan?ncid=newsltuspatc00000001
Lana Ross November 22, 2012 at 04:07 AM
The letter to the editor that you're highlighting, was carefully written with a lot of help. This is just a letter for people like you to see and judge our community and spin it as a religious issue, as you have noted in your previous remark to the other comment. Please research OTHER sources as I have mentioned in my previous posting before mentioning this letter again and again. Thank you very much for your careful and a very intelligent evaluation of this important matter.
Lana Ross November 22, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Susan, please join our group info@coscobneedsyou.com. Please spread the word however you can.
Nicole Crosby November 22, 2012 at 04:54 AM
RZ, first you write: "I have read what the President of GRS has written-- in which he clearly states they are never going to build a 20,000 sq ft. building or a 100 car parking lot." Then you contradict yourself with your actual quote from Birnbaum: "...we could legally and environmentally support about 20,000 square feet of floor area ratio (FAR) in a two story building. This does not mean we expect to build a structure this size, it simply represents a viable upper limit for this property and thus the guideline we used in our request for proposal to architects. Similarly, parking for 100 cars could also fit on this site with a building of the above size, but it is unlikely our needs will reach that level." I don't see him clearly stating they are never going to build a 20,000 sq. ft. building or a 100-car parking lot. Furthermore, the RFP calls for an expansion at a later date of another 5,000 sq. feet on top of the 20,000. How do you come up with statements like this? "there won't be anymore traffic than there already is- as these people can use the same route they used to get to when GRS was on Stanwich." What people? If you're coming from Indian Field Road, for example, you're going to take Valleywood Rd. to the proposed site, not Stanwich Rd. - at least if you want to take the quickest route. Greenwich Country Day has vastly more property buffering it from homes than this proposal. Name-calling and personal attack are typical from GRS' defenders.
Vicki Camacho - Public Access Producer November 22, 2012 at 11:15 PM
I'm compelled to write that Route 1 in Cos Cob is so congested that I avoid it at all cost. When there's delays on the 95, I'd rather sit in the stand still traffic than to exit in Cos Cob. It is a residential area. No room for anything thing, especially cars.
RRD November 23, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Simply stated - the location for the proposed building/parking lot is an VERY bad choice. I invite RZ to stop her car and see what a blind spot it would be for the exit and entrance area on Orchard. On addition- if Osee Place is used and an "emergency exit- with a gate for access"- which by the way, I was told by the GRS- is NOT safe. Not for the surrounding houses or the building- it would be a terrible fire hazzard. When there are cars parked on the street emergency trucks etc could not get by. In addition there is only one fire hydrant on the street. The GRS has a right to build and I hope they do but they just need to find a better location. I can not belive any religious institution would want to develop a house of worship around so much bad carma.
Tia Winters November 27, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Friends of Cos Cob, and someone who cares.....Make this a positive change, if the plans can be approved, if the property works, if it's not an eye soar, if the traffic allows, etc. If it is zoned commercial then it's only a matter of time that some other business scoops this up.... do not make this about religion, rather beauty, community participation, the money it may bring to Cos Cob, etc. This could be a very positive change for Cos Cob! Best of luck with the planning!
dtwx November 27, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Really Tia? The property won't "work". It will be a huge eye-sore. The traffic will not "allow". And this quiet, residential neighborhood neither wants nor needs more commercial development. So you are basically saying it's OK to turn Orchard Street into another Putnam Ave? Right. We're perfectly happy keeping Cos Cob the quiet neighborhood it is now. Whatever money would be brought into Cos Cob would not be anywhere near enough to compensate for the significant drop in property values for hundreds of homes affected by this plan. Oh, and by the way, nobody is making this about religion, except for you.
Lana Ross November 27, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Tia it is not zoned commercial. It is R12 residential zoning.
Hilda Lee December 01, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The GRS stated that a reason for choosing 92 Orchard Street to build their new home is that a school and a church are already in the area; one more institution will not alter the nature of that part of Cos Cob or create extra inconvenience to the neighborhood. Their view is misleading. Misleading: 1) Both CMS and the Baptist Church came into existence on public demand and were configured with the community at the time in the 1960s. The church was built in 1960 along with many family homes in the neighborhood. The school arrived in 1964 due to the need to educate local children. Today's residents, both long-standing and recent, fully understand and respect this history and existing living environment. They do not desire, and have the right to reject, another big institution built on their doorstep. 2) Both CMS and the church are on Indian Rock Lane which is serviced by a number of roads. The proposed Synagogue will have only one entry point -- on 92 Orchard Street, which is fully surrounded by family houses with children. 3) Both CMS and the church are situated at the end of a residential zone bordering a big open space on generous-sized lots. The proposed institution would be in the middle of family houses on too small a lot. It could only blend into the current neighborhood if the bulk of its 20,000 sq. ft structure and 100 car-parking facility are built underground, with a tunnel connecting to the Post Road. From very-concern
Hilda Lee December 01, 2012 at 03:59 PM
The manner in which the GRS handled the proposed lot-line realignment has so far been less than honorable: their lawyer insisted in front of the P & Z hearing that "they are two single family lots now and they will remain two family lots after the lot-line is changed." In truth, that was only the first of many applications that will lead to a change of use of the combined property; the "intent" behind the action is to ridicule the P&Z process with the "whole world" watching.
Concerned Citizen December 04, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Thanks for the info. I will sign up at www.greenwichneedsyou.com to join in opposition. I am a pedestrian who uses the Orchard Street entrance to the wildwife preserve/Pinetum, which is located about 5 houses north of the proposed development site at 92-96 Orchard. There is a pedestrian crosswalk I use to cross Orchard Street, and I already take my life in my hands every time I want to use the park. Traffic making left turns into the 92-96 Orchard property will back up the already congested Orchard Street, which is only one lane in either direction, and there is no room to build a left turn lane. I would hope that the GRS takes the neighborhood concerns into account and rethinks their purchase of this land. They had 11.5 acres up sparsely populated Stanwich Road, and they now potentially have two acres in a densely populated, highly trafficked neighborhood. This section of Orchard Street will become car-crash central, unfortunately for all involved.
Sandra Mannaravalappil December 13, 2013 at 11:27 AM
My family lived at 98 & 100 Orchard Street for many years, my aunt just sold her house on at 98 a few years ago. This is a mistake Orchard street cannot handle the traffic it has , the Caravella Family of all people know this. Louie was once called the Unofficial Mayor of Cos Cob and now he has thrown it to the wolves how sad

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