To the editor:
Your article regarding our plans to build a new home for Greenwich Reform Synagogue on Orchard Street in Cos Cob certainly led to a very vigorous dialog in your “Comments” section. We respect the concerns neighbors have raised. There are many valid points and we’ll do what we can to address them, both now and as plans are developed going forward.
I would like to address some specific comments regarding traffic and the overall scope of the project. It’s important to note that our congregation, particularly the core group that regularly practices attends services, is not a large one. The building will not be the strain on the neighborhood that many fear. Our goal is to create a spiritual home that will blend in with the neighborhood.
When examining potential properties for purchase, we went through exhaustive feasibility studies. 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.
Our typical Friday night Shabbat services—by far our highest-attended weekly event—attracts an average of about 50 people in 25 cars, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less.
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.
Our congregants come from all points within Greenwich, resulting in diluted traffic flow—we don’t anticipate a noticeable difference from any one direction. A considerable percentage of our members live in central and eastern Greenwich; for the past 20 years, they have been traveling via Orchard Street to Stanwich, so no significant change in traffic flow is anticipated.
(Some have raised specific concerns regarding traffic on Valleywood. It’s not clear that the assertion that Valleywood is the most attractive route to the site for cars approaching on Putnam Ave. from the west is correct. But even if some were to find it so –we would discourage that routing- we’re not talking about that many cars—perhaps five or six on a Friday night.)
Last year we had eight Saturday morning bar/bat mitzvahs, which attracted anywhere from 75 to 150 people in 35 to 60 cars.
The only time we anticipate a real bump in traffic to the neighborhood is during the two High Holidays in the fall, when a larger percentage of the congregation attends services. Because Greenwich schools are closed for those holidays there won’t be an additional traffic burden on top of normal traffic to Central Middle School, which is located just 1000 feet away.
On those two holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), our policy has been to engage off-duty Greenwich Police officers to manage traffic flow for safety reasons, a practice we would extend to other events if necessary.
There will be minimal use of the building on weekdays during working hours, other than for small Hebrew school classes and the small staff we employ to run the congregation. We have minor gatherings on weeknights, but these generally consist of no more than 8-10 people getting together for choir practice, small social/study events or a Board meeting.
We expect that an objective, third-party traffic study (which will be performed as part of the regulatory process) will validate our view that traffic impact to the neighborhood will be negligible. GRS has never had any traffic issues in any of its locations, including St. Paul’s Church, in a very residential part of Riverside.
We have already spoken with some neighbors who have voiced their concerns. We will do everything we can to address ongoing questions regarding the site, and we have committed to meeting with neighbors to discuss.
GRS has shared space with other groups and neighbors throughout practically our entire history. We’ve been tenants of churches in similarly residential neighborhoods and we’ve seen how it can be done in a sensitive and cooperative way.
We have every intention of making this process open and civil and we truly believe that we will be a positive presence for the neighborhood in every respect.
President, Greenwich Reform Synagogue