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.
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."